The PR Department’s second Zajel Youth Exchange Programme has drawn to a close. With 23 international volunteers travelling from Canada, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Russia and France, the two-week long summer camp has been a resounding success.
The international volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds. Many are currently at university, studying a range of subjects from sociology to development studies. Others hold a number of professions, working as teachers, computer programmers, social workers and academics.
Throughout the Zajel Programme, the international volunteers delivered workshops to over 150 students at An-Najah National University. The classes covered topics such as employability, applying for courses at Western universities, public speaking and English conversation.
At the beginning of the exchange the group visited Askar Refugee Camp. Established in 1950, the camp was originally intended to house those displaced in 1948. Now, however, it is home to subsequent generations of refugees; Askar is now severely overpopulated. A local guide led the group around the camp, explaining its history and the daily life of its residents. The group also stopped by a local community center where a group of children were performing a traditional Palestinian dance.
For many international volunteers and Palestinians, the highlight of the trip was their visit to a Bedouin camp in the Arab Rashaydeh desert. A local man arrived to play traditional Bedouin music, and later the group danced to Palestinian songs. Early the next morning they drove to the Dead Sea to watch the sunrise from the cliff tops; a unique opportunity to observe Palestine’s natural beauty. Another visit was paid to the Church of Nativity and the old city of Bethlehem.
Soon after, the group travelled to Hebron, the volunteers learnt about many aspects of Hebron’s history and the current political situation. The group began their visit at the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs), the site of the 1994 massacre of Palestinians committed by extremist Baruch Goldstein. Afterwards, the volunteers witnessed firsthand the segregation enforced by the Israeli Occupation when walking down al-Shuhada street, on the way to a meeting with Youth Against Settlements. The trip also explored some of the economic issues faced by Palestinians in Hebron during a visit to the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Towards the end of the exchange, the group travelled to Jenin; including both the city and the refugee camp. Here they visited the Freedom Theatre, originally founded by an Israeli supporter of Palestine as a means of providing children with an avenue for creative expression. The next stop was the Burqin Church; the third-oldest church in the world and the site in which Jesus cured the Ten Lepers. Along the way we stopped regularly to look at the remains of abandoned Israeli military bases across the area.
Towards the end of the Programme the international volunteers led day-long workshops covering four key themes: psychological pressures, religion and tolerance, social media and the issue of employment and training in Palestine. The workshops aimed to provide tangible solutions to the problems that Palestinian youth face, which concluded with students presenting the initiatives they had formulated together.
A number of lectures and presentations were organised for the international volunteers. Delivered largely by professors at An-Najah University, the group had the chance to learn about the psychological impact of the Occupation, the history and culture of the Samaritans, public health, energy production and Palestinian politics.
Hala Barahma – Camp Leader:
“Through organising the exchange programme, I have come to realize the importance of bridging the gap between Palestinian students and people from other backgrounds.”
Matthew Wright – International Volunteer:
“Taking part in the Zajel Youth Exchange Programme has been an invaluable opportunity for me to learn more about Palestinian history, culture and politics firsthand. The exchange has been packed full of trips and activities, and I am still in awe of how much we have had chance to see and do in just a fortnight.”