Journalist, 26 – United Kingdom
In 2009 I had a gap between jobs and wanted to make the most of this brief freedom. As I was born and grew up in the Middle East, I knew a fair amount about Palestine, but had never been there. Rather than go as a tourist, I decided to put my CELTA qualification to good use. So I Googled “volunteering in the West Bank” and found Project Hope.
Volunteering was a challenge. The children were amazing and difficult, fun and exhausting. A lot of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, which means they have a short attention span and their energy is boundless, which — because of the restrictions that they live within –they can’t fully expend. One of my pupils in the refugee camps, Tamer, would do laps around the classroom with his chair on his head, shrieking with joy whenever he got a question right. He preferred to sit on the table rather than at it. Like the other kids, he loved the map game, where they would point at a map guessing where London was, or even Palestine. It was tough to watch. Most of the children have never left Nablus, let alone the West Bank. A lot have never seen the sea.
Although I admit I was skeptical about Project Hope, when I got there I realised just how much the charity was a part of the community. Refreshingly for an international NGO, rather than simply being an influx of foreign volunteers, on the ground Project Hope is run by Palestinians responding to the needs of their city. It is a huge privilege to work with the Project Hope team. Through them I was introduced and accepted into a society that has been through a lot. I was welcomed into people’s homes and made close friends in just a few months. I was assigned local volunteers who became my translators, my guides and my friends. I suspect I learned more than I taught.
Since then I never really stopped volunteering. I have been to Canada and Amsterdam with Project Hope, working with the Board of Trustees and on exhibitions and events under the supportive guidance of co-founder Jeremy Wildeman. I also help set up a literary internship in the UK. I went back to Nablus last year and will go out again soon. This year I was made board member. I am now lucky enough to be a part of the decision making and project building. Project Hope has been a steep learning curve for me. Deciding to get involved in 2009 was certainly one of the best decisions I have made.