Reflections of the International Volunteers- July Camp 2017

Ifsa Tinda - England
“Every time I leave, I leave half of my heart in Palestine”

  To begin, I can officially say that I have had the best two weeks of my life. On the last day of classes, we were talking about future plans and I mentioned that I plan on coming back to Nablus within the next year. And one of my students said to me "why". I said I love this place. I love the language, the people, the culture and everything in between. I've visited Palestine before and every time I leave, I leave half of my heart in Palestine.

At first I can safely say that I felt as though I was dropped in deep end, but I soon learnt to swim. It was particularly easy to get the hang of things when you’re teaching an amazing bunch of students like my class. The attitude here is very different to the UK, with a passion to learn and co-operate. I am genuinely so proud of them and I hope they never stop practicing English. Also to all the volunteers, we have genuinely got to know each other very well and I could not have asked for a better group. We are all not from the same background but we left this place with a sense of unity. The trips were also a major highlight and I feel privileged to have visited places that locals have not. All in all, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone and thank you to Zajel Program.

Dominick Hachild - England
“What An-Najah Has Done Here is Extraordinary”

  The Zajel camp is a beautiful exercise in the bringing together of many culture to teach and inspire. Eye-opening would be an understatement and it has educated me on the reality of the conflict. Yes- It has been a startling, but it has also been incredible in a powerful way. The people I have met over the past two weeks have truly been an inspiration – academically excellent and personally beautiful. I honestly believe that each one of the local volunteers will go on to do incredible things and i will remember their genuine hospitality for the rest of my life.

This camp is a genuine experience of Palestine, both in the people we have met and the first hand experiences of both painful oppression and incredible resilience, from visiting the apartheid wall in Bethlehem that sliced the country in half, to the beautiful kite festival that demonstrated the spirit of the Palestinian people, this is an unforgettable opportunity.

Lastly, the friendship I have made here, I am certain will last for a very long time. Both the warm and friendly Palestinian and also the very special international volunteers who have come from all over the world to learn and to make a difference. This camp is an unmissable and unforgettable experience: what Zajel and An-Najah university have done here is extraordinary and it will stay with me forever.

Will Hardeng – England
“Zajel has been the most intense, emotional and educational 2 weeks of my life”

  Despite studying the Middle Eastern conflict for several years, and feeling as if I had a solid grasp on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I can now safely say that I knew very little. Zajel has been the most intense, emotional and education 2 weeks of my life.

The workshops were a highlight of the camp for me. While there were some teething problems, we soon found our feet and what started as a class of some 60 students, who were scared to even say “my name is …..”, turned into a confident group of individuals who were debating confidently and competently in English. I feel as if I have made many friends with the students in my workshop and I hope to see them again one day. The workshops were incredibly rewarding and a highlight of my trip.

I feel as if I have learnt so much over the past two weeks. And done so much that I can barely remember what happened yesterday. Particular highlights were Hebron and qalqiliya, very moving places. The An-Najah staff and volunteers have all been superb, the accommodations were great and the food was consistently excellent. Staff did everything and more to ensure our stay was comfortable and I greatly appreciate that. I have made some very close friends at Zajel and we will be taking home some memories I will never forget. I hope to see all of the volunteers, staff and students again and would nice again thank everyone for the most intense, emotional and educational two weeks of my life. It brings a tear to my eye to think that I will soon be leaving. We will stay in touch.

Louise Holiday - Scotland
“Zajel offers opportunities for international volunteers to see the real Palestine”

  I have participated in a few volunteer projects abroad and assumed Zajel would be like any other. It wasn’t! Zajel offers opportunities for international volunteers to see the real Palestine through mixing with locals while learning about their history and culture during tours across the West Bank. The program is jam packed full of activities so there is always things to be doing. By far the best aspect of being a part of the Youth Exchange is the warmth of the local people. Locals welcomed us with opened arms and I think I can speak for all of the international volunteers when I say we have friends for life.

Trisha Chaha – England
“Teaching was so fulfilling because it meant I became a part of Palestinian society”

  For the first time when I decided to come to Palestine, I was so excited. I did not know what this place was gonna hold for me. Meeting all of my new friends has been Palestine for me. And all the strong friendships I made with people around me and all the culture, the history, the language and all the beautiful things that this land and its people hold is something I will cherish for life.

I can honestly say this camp has given me so much both in terms of leaning about the country and its peoples and the conflict they are facing, and also the bonds with the volunteers that I will cherish for lifetime. Everyday we were doing new things, exploring the countries with the locals, intellectuals, and friends. I saw the sincerity of the Palestinians and was able to recognize means of peaceful resistance taking place here. Visiting Bethlehem and the apartheid wall was perhaps my fondest memory where I witnessed solidarity with those unrepresented in the society. Working and teaching university students meant my experience here was ultimately deepened. I was able to exchange information and engage with the youth that are living student lives so similar to mine. Teaching was so fulfilling because it meant I became a part of Palestinian society albeit for two weeks. I am incredibly grateful for this experience though there were definite highs and lows, I would take none of it back because it was one of the greatest experience of my life.

And for sure this is not the last time I will be in Palestine. I am so grateful for everyone here who's made this such a beautiful experience. I'll go home taking with me the bonds I have made with everyone and this land.

Paula – Finland
“I was positively surprised, even though I did not have any expectations”

  This has been an amazing experience, I have learned a lot from the students and from the organized trips as well. It has been wonderful to see that despite of the many conflicts, difficulties, unfairness, and the injustice that the Palestinians suffer from. There is still hope. The students were amazing, the whole camp and the workshops were a cultural exchange experience, in which interaction and conversation took place. I was positively surprised, even though I did not have any expectations. As a result, we all have learned a lot, not only the students. It was a mutual benefit since students have learned from us and we all have also learned from them. I also want to say thank you to Zajel for organizing everything. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Neria Migul – Basque Country
“Coming to Palestine was like a dream”

  Coming to Palestine was like a dream. I am here to fill that dream in my life especially because I come from a region where we also have some political struggles and what I want is just to give it all my support because I know your situation is difficult. And I know that zajel program is an amazing program because they make us come to a place and they really welcome us. They are really showing us the total reality of Palestine and all the good things in Palestine because it has a strong identity. Amongst all of the difficulties, you can really see how Palestinians want to progress in the world. I applaud their strong identity and also how among all the difficulty you want to progress and you want to have strong values and keep your identity and traditions. Please continue doing. This setting in the university is an amazing setting but it's very necessary. We all came here for many different reasons but at the end we are all leaving Palestine as one family.

Hugo – Portugal
“We were not told the proper story, now I can actually tell what the true story is”

  When I first found Zajel I was looking for something interesting and useful to do. I did not want it to be a normal vacation abroad; I wanted an experience in which I can volunteer in whatever I can help with. The Palestinian subject has always interested me. Palestine and Palestinians are being presented in a completely different image of what they really are; they are always presented as the “bad guys” and that Israelis are good ones. This camp has opened my eyes to see the reality, since I believe that people shouldn’t just blindly follow the criteria of the western media. Zajel has been an experience of the Palestinian daily life. It allows the international volunteers to approach the Palestinian culture, history and family. All of this allows these volunteers to understand the Palestinian actual cause.

The camp was “a brilliant two weeks”. The program was perfect and the organization of it was so good. The combination of the voluntary work in the workshops and leisure time in the morning and evening social and cultural activities was so good. We would give the workshops and then spending the rest of the day learning, whether we were having dinner in a typical Palestinian house, visiting a refugee camp, or having a tour in the old city of Nablus.

Most of the students in the workshops were very good; they had the skills of writing and reading, but not speaking, so they needed to learn conversation skills. And they did. The transformation they have gone through since the first day of the workshops until the last one was a very positive surprise. In my class ‘Learning English by western songs’, we did several things. I even added debating, where the students are given enough space to think and form their opinions.

These two weeks were truly the best experience of my life. I have done much cool stuff in my life and travelled a lot, but this was the best. Actually, what make this experience so special are the people. The Palestinian people.

“A human being can live without food for several days, and can survive without water for a short period of time, but cannot survive without a smile” and Palestinians live with that smile.

Family spirit, amazing history and a wonderful culture; this is what Palestine is about. However, Palestinians must do some improvements in some fields. The youth should work harder to be heard and recognized by the world. Also, authorized people should support them in order to reach that, because the youth have the power to change anything.

Thank you guys for everything. Thanks for the incredible hospitality and overwhelming welcoming. Thank you for being so kind to us. I’ll learn Arabic in Portugal, and for sure I will come back.

Momen – U.S.A
“This is the first I genuinely enjoyed myself in my home country”

  I'm really glad I came to this program. I am Palestinian American so I came here knowing what is going on in here. This is the first I genuinely enjoyed myself in my home country. This summer I got to come here and teach others English. Debates specifically in English. I think that's very important because as Palestinians, in terms of international politics, we seem to lose a lot of debates against Israelis so we lose our rights very easily because we don't know how to debate them as well. As Palestinians we should always be ready to debate and ask for our rights. Thanks to Zajel for organizing this and giving me an opportunity to give back.

Shahrose Kahn - Canada
“I would give anything to come back to Palestine once more”

  My experience at Zajel was once in a lifetime opportunity. It had been my dream to visit Palestine since I was 12 and first started reading about history. When I heard about this program, I did not know what to expect but I did not care too much as I would be spending two weeks in Palestine. However, now that I have done the program, I am thankful to God that this was my first visit to the country. People usually think Palestine is a war zone and why would anyone want to visit a country like that. But they could not be more wrong. Even though Palestine is under the Israeli occupation, I would give anything to come back to Palestine once more. The culture, the history and the people really show you that there is life even under the circumstances that the Palestinians live in. On top of that, The Coordinator of Zajel made sure that we were never near any dangerous situation and always prioritized our safety. Zajel showed us the truth of the Palestinians, both the happy truth and the sad parts. Also importantly, they allowed us to make friends for life from all over the world. I came to Zajel alone but I left with three new families: the international volunteers, the local volunteers and my students!

Ela – U.S.A
“Don’t let the media shape your image of Palestine before you come and experience it yourself”

  Throughout this experience, I have learned so much, not only from the students and the other volunteers, but also from the Palestinian culture in general. I found everybody to be incredibly hospitable and kind. We have learned so much about the Palestinian culture, traditions and all about the Palestinian situation and conflict with Israel.

The camp was a fantastic experience culturally, politically, religiously and in all aspects. We visited the old city of Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, refugee camps and a lot of the small local villages. We toured a lot of the west bank.

I do highly recommend Zajel program for anyone who is thinking of coming to Palestine; especially those who are afraid because of the media coverage about Palestine. Palestine is not what is being shown on the TV. Don’t let the media shape your image of Palestine before you come and experience it yourself.