By Aranja Rodregues
This year, when I had to decide where to go for my holidays, the first thing that came to my head was doing a volunteer camp with Service Civil International (SCI).I already have taken part in six camps, in Europe, Africa and Asia, as well as coordinating two in Spain. All of them were very enriching experiences, so without thinking it over too much, I went online to check SCI’s website.
I had been thinking of going to Palestine for some time, so I searched for different options. The first camp to catch my eye was “Knowledge saves lives”, organized by the public University of An-Najah in Nablus, so I applied for it…
Now, back home writing these lines, I’ve realized this volunteering program has exceeded all my expectations, and I feel enormously happy and grateful to have experienced it.
For two weeks we (thirteen volunteers from all over the world) gathered and lived together enjoying the kindness and warm welcome of the Palestinian people, discovering the history and reality of their country and what it is like to live and suffer the Israelite occupation.
Local guides, experts, volunteers and friends of the University of An-Najah took us to more than a hundred places related to the history of Palestine, from antiquity to the present time. We also learned a lot about the work of different NGOs and Palestinian social movements.
I was particularly moved walking through the once bustling and now deserted streets of Hebron, seeing an Israeli settlement, visiting refugee camps (68% of Palestinians live displaced from their places of origin), learning more about the apartheid wall, being forced to cross an Israeli security check point to visit the holly mosque of Hebron and walking through the old prison where our bus driver had been imprisoned (one in five Palestinians have been in prison).
Despite all this, we experienced wonderful sites, slept in the desert with a Bedouin family and witnessed the sunrise by the Dead Sea. Palestine is a beautiful country!.
Even if we had a very tight schedule, we also had the time to lead various workshops with the students of the University of An-Najah. Together, with another volunteer, we carried out a workshop creating a video based in one of the most important symbols for Palestine; The olive tree. I really enjoyed the creation process, understanding the students’ concerns and specially witnessing their motivation.
Without a doubt, this trip has been one of the most intense, emotional and enriching experiences in my life. The tragic situation Palestine has suffered for decades, cannot be understood just by reading the news, one must visit the country and listen to the tragic stories of its people to comprehend the reality of those who continue suffering the occupation and confiscation of their lands by the state of Israel.
There are too many tragic things happening in the world today and we should not let them simply be images on the press or on our TVs… as our students from the video workshop said: we must “raise our voices”.
In the case of Palestine, It is critical to visit and witness “what remains” of the country, helping its cause because unfortunately, the support of international civil society is the only hope left for the Palestinian people against the indifference of countries that look the other way and continue to support the state of Israel.
I left days ago, but a bit of Palestine came back with me in my heart.
Gracias! Shukran! Thank you! To all the wonderful people who made this workcamp an unforgettable one!