One week – and so much to say!

We have been in Palestine for a bit more than a week now, and we are starting to have our first realisations and learning points. To structure our thoughts, we decided to do the 5-finger method of evaluation, evaluating our first days. We wanted to include many aspects of our experience and we will for sure return to many of these subjects later.

In the 5-finger evaluation method, each finger represents one thing. The thumb is for something that has been really good, the index finger for something you want to point out, the middle finger for something that has been bad, the ring finger for something you want to commit to and finally, the little finger is for that little cherry on the top that fulfills your experience.

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Explanations below:

TEA

Good
We live in an astonishing community that is so lively, friendly, full of life and so vibrant, that it is almost unbelievable how good we feel here, based on the circumstances that this is a refugee camp. Ibdaa is a reflection of this community- it is a Cultural centre, where there are things happening all the time. A place where you just go in the evening and you play cards or a dice game called 31-which I fell in love with, where youngsters themselves organise their cultural performances, where they organise “pop quiz” on the history of their home town, where you drink coffee, talk with all different people and enjoy the atmosphere.

Pointing out
People here are open to share their stories. They also want to meet you and this is why they are not afraid to ask you any questions, even personal ones. But at the same time, they will also open themselves up and even though you just met them 1 minute ago, they will tell you their life story, stories of their parents and how they came to this place, how they all became refugees in their own country, what are their hopes, aspirations and wishes, how it looks like they are having an ok life, but they would leave this all up in a second. They would look at their newly built nice house, with a huge yard and would say… “Yes, this is my house… but it is not my home”.
Talking with them and listening their stories is eye opening and it helps to understand their perspective, the situation and…it does not necessarily bring clarity. It raises up more questions and it intrigues me to learn more.

Bad
I feel bad, when I realise I am privileged. It feels bad, when they point it out like it’s something casual and the most ordinary thing. And I know they don’t mean it bad, it is just the reality and they say it out loud, maybe not even reflecting that this situation is wrong. It just how it is here. I have European passport, so I can travel around. I can write this blog. I am allowed to do more, than most of the people here. I am not the only one; it is also difficult to observe inequalities among people here; the place you live or even the colour of your license plate gives you privileges compared to others.
I feel bad, when I cannot comfort the people who are sad, because their children, brother, sisters and fathers are in prison.

Commitment
I came here to work in this amazing organisation and learn from all this. In last week, I got familiar with the people in the organisation, the work they are doing and our common project ahead of us. The atmosphere in an organisation is amazing, so are the people and it is clear they are very professional in what they are doing, so I can’t wait to start working more. We will go to different communities and work with young people, providing trainings and strive to empower young people in different fields, such as leaderships, employability, soft skills, media and IT. I feel this is also an amazing opportunity to express my experiences and expertise and I hope I can bring something to this organisation and broader community.

Cherry on the top
There is a wall separating two sides. I don’t know what is on the other side of the wall. It is tall, long and you cannot see through it. It has check-points for passing through. Most people from the community where we live in, cannot go to the other side. But what we can see from this side of the wall are graffiti, artworks and paintings. Quotes and messages, calls, aspirations and symbols. From this side, the wall shows how strong is the will of the people, it reflects the values, hopes for the future, principles and peaceful resistance, the solidarity among many who are in despair. And even though I cannot say that the wall is nice, I am trying to see other meanings in it. And I am trying to see beyond.

IDA

Good
The best thing so far has been all the people we have met! We are lucky to stay with a family of six in the refugee camp, and they have been amazing in opening up their homes to us, making us feel like home, answering questions and helping us get around. We live and work in a lively neighbourhood where many people are friends or related to our family, and people we meet are generally very open to share their life-stories – some that are not easy to hear. We are surrounded by people who are so down to earth, friendly and honest and the conversations we have helped us understanding the realities here.

Pointing out
We got to Palestine in the middle of Ramadan, which is the month of fasting in Islam. In practical terms this has meant that the office has been very calm, and we have had the opportunity for a soft start which is good. In the evening, when people break the fast, they first eat and then hit town for shopping or just hanging out, and it’s an amazing vibe! What has been interesting to discover more broadly is that people interpret their religion differently and not everyone fasts. There are spots where you can drink coffee or smoke (eg: in the backroom of a clothing store) even during the day, if you know the right location and people.

Bad
The most difficult thing for me has been to accept the fact that people are used to violence here. Kids know how to hit back, and several people have explained to me the different situations when violence is justified and many have experienced it. Violence and especially self-defence is a part of not just life, but the culture here, which has been a shocking realisation. When you walk down the street in the early morning and see rocks in the street, you know that soldiers carrying weapons came in the night and that the people in the camp tried to stop them from entering.

Commitment
A part of EVS is also learning a language! For us this means that we will learn the basics of Arabic. The Arabic spoken in our community here differs from standard Arabic, so this is the version we are learning. So far it has mostly been a few words and phrases, but already this is helpful in communicating with people. In our EVS, we will implement training courses, and in some cases do it bilingually; us speaking English and a co-trainer speaking Arabic. This will be a super cool experience for all of us, and for the participants. [check out our own glossary here!]

Cherry on the top
I love Middle Eastern cuisine! As a vegetarian, I was warned before that all the Palestinian dishes contain meat. This is probably true, but I have eaten the best things ever. People here sure know how to make the best of the hours in the night that are for eating during Ramadan. Hummus is just the beginning. I will need another suitcase for going home, just to fill with all the different types of sweets that exists in this place. I am in love.

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Our cherries: hummus & the wall.

The Olive Tree of Expectations

Under the blue Palestinian sky, stands an olive tree, that represents our volunteering experience. The ground around it is currently covered in leaves, that all symbolize our various expectations we have on the experience. In a few weeks we will revisit this olive tree, and if we are lucky, the expectations will start being fulfilled, and move towards the top of the tree where leaves usually belong. Maybe, they will not move, and maybe new leaves will appear on the way. Hopefully, by the end of this experience, the olive tree will be full of fresh green leaves.

There are also some dark clouds in the sky. These clouds represent our fears. When the olive tree is revisited, maybe the clouds will have moved away allowing the sun to shine through on our tree. 

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Tea

I don’t think I can really explain where my interest to Middle East and Arabic countries is coming from, but I have been always curious to learn more about this part of the world, its culture and situation.
I hope EVS opportunity will allow me to learn more about all this and specially to better understand the Palestinian reality and people’s living here. I expect to learn a lot from people here; colleagues from the office, from participants at the trainings, from our host family and all other people we will interact with and who will be willing to share their stories and view. I know I will also learn a lot from Ida, as she is an amazing trainer and a person, therefore staying 2 months with her will give me a lot. I want to grow professionally and personally and even challenge myself, by being exposed to new environment and overcome things that can be unpleasant. On the other side, I know this is also my biggest fear- that I will see and hear stories, that I will see pain and injustice, face situations that are hard to cope with… and that this will cause frustrations in me and a sense of despair, where I will know there is nothing I can do, to make things better.
I want to take the most out of this experience, learn and reflect on it and I expect it will show me the new angle of perspective in many various fields.

Ida

I have never been in the Middle East before, and most of my knowledge about the region were from TV-news (usually not very happy news) and from trying many foods with chickpeas. I expect to go beyond this; getting to know people, how they perceive their lives and their surroundings – on community and on an individual level. I also applied for this EVS because I wanted to work as a trainer, and learn from others who have a different background than me, well aware that this could be a challenge. I am also excited to understand the needs of the young people in the local community, as it might differ from what I know from before. By living within a community with a different culture, language and religion than my own I also want to increase my intercultural competences. Before arriving here, my mind was occupied with thoughts about safety and security. I was worried I would have to experience violence and unfairness very closely. Not being involved and included in the local community, and hence never getting to actually understand the life and culture around me was another fear.

 

The Olive Tree of Expectations can be adapted in different and used as a reflection before, during and after any kind of experience. We chose to use an olive tree because it is typical for the region, but it can be something else.

Our paths to Palestine

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These are the steps on our individual paths to Palestine.

Tea

1. Scouts
I’ve joined scout organisation and scout movement as a child and I am still active in it. It allowed me to take the responsibility for myself and others, transfer the knowledge to younger generations, develop educational programmes and taught me how to contribute to the society, throughout the scout organisation and beyond.
2. I wish to learn and act
When I was 11 years old I wanted to read a constitution of my country and understand what is it all about. And I read it and now I am studying law. I believe in justice, rule of law, democracy and solidarity, I think it is possible to achieve peace and wellbeing, I want to shape and contribute to the society I am living in, I want to do more and I love learning about these things and using the knowledge in the work that I do.
3. Youth sector
Because of scouts, which is the biggest youth organisation in Slovenia, a got involved in youth sector at local and national level, working for different organisations. Developing youth work and youth policies and being youth representative empowered me in those topics and open my horizons to address the challenges of young people.
I started working also as trainer, organising and implementing educational activities at national and international level, and I do this for years now, as a freelance trainer.
4. Western Sahara
Working at the international level allowed me to get familiar with topics not only beyond the boarder of my own country but also beyond my comfort zone, exposing me to new cultures and environments. I got an opportunity to visit a refugee camp of Western Sahara and stayed there with the family. Being there was the nicest and at the same time the most horrified experience- seeing the situation people are living in, injustice and at the same time their strength, open my eyed and increase my interest to further explore and to address these topics.
5. European Youth Forum
Based on my involvement in youth sector I also got involved in largest European youth platform advocating for youth rights. I worked there as a political representative of my organisation and now I work there as a trainer and facilitator. This is where I met Ida, who is also a trainer and we discovered we share same interests, we like working with each other’s and we can learn from each other.
6. Activism
I work for Trade Union Youth plus which is a trade union for young unemployed people and precarious workers, students and pupils. We are activists, and we do advocacy actions, campaigns, educational activities and offer services for our member. I am an activist. And this is my dream job. Our primary scope of work is employment and labour market, but we go beyond this.
Slovenia is being affected by the refugee crisis and I strongly disagree with official state policies and measured being taken in this regard. I cannot accept what is happening and I cannot stand the injustice, I wish I could do more. And I want to learn more. So, I decided to explore the options and I ended up doing an EVS in Palestine.

Ida

1. Student Activism
When I was very young, I got involved with, and later worked for, an amazing organization that represents and supports Swedish speaking secondary school students in Finland. This was my first taste of civil society activism, non-formal education and societal change – and I loved it!
2. OBESSU
National school student activism lead me to do the same, but on a European level, in an organisation called OBESSU. I realized there were people everywhere who were fighting for the same things I was. Here I was also starting to become a trainer of non-formal education, working with young school student activists from all over Europe on issues such as democracy, advocacy and social inclusion.
3. Human Rights
I have been lucky to get involved with the Youth Sector of the Council of Europe. This did not just teach me a million things, but it further shaped my values and gave me a context and support for working with human rights and democratic participation.
4. The YFJ
My involvement in the European Youth Forum (YFJ) has been mostly as a trainer/facilitator. Here, I got engaged with even more issues that concern young people today, like employment. The YFJ also gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of people In the field of non-formal education, personally and professionally, like those 10 days me and Tea spent working together in Spain and realized we get along really well.
5. South Africa
Suddenly, I found myself having a 9-5 desk job in Cape Town, South Africa. I loved the challenge, I loved learning about the politics, history and culture of the country, and I was surrounded by amazing friends and colleagues who supported me in this. I also realized that packing my bag and challenging myself professionally in another country was something that gave me a lot of fulfillment.
6. Formal education
I was in the first year of my masters when me and Tea applied for this EVS. My studies have allowed me to learn about so many political situations all around the world, that I was eager to leave the library and explore the world myself. I was also frustrated by the academic bubble and the career expectations put on people in it, and had the urge to do something else, somewhere else.