Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In Jerusalem...

Moving on

It’s hard to believe that our time in Jerusalem is almost over. Before coming here I had no idea what to expect, but I never would have dreamed that I would have such an enjoyable and interesting time in Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I think that it’s safe to say that before coming here most of us believed that we had a pretty good grasp of the situation in Palestine – whether this was through our degree courses, keeping up to date with the news or following debate through organisations focussing on the area. However, since moving to Jerusalem our eyes have been opened to the real problems that face Palestinians everyday, from the restriction of movement through the use of checkpoints or the problems with education and school drop outs.

Through our work at the Youth Development Department we have learned more about these problems, and decided to specifically focus on the problem of school drop outs for the majority of our time here. The Youth Development Department is based in East Jerusalem, just before Qalandiya checkpoint, and is an NGO that works towards developing the knowledge, skills and potential in Palestinian youth. During our time here we have learned that 40% of Palestinian youth don’t complete their education, mostly due to economic problems or clashes with the Israeli authorities.

Filming an education expert in the Old City


YDD tackles problems regarding the youth in Palestine that may never reach the western media, but are still some very real problems affecting everyday life here. We have therefore been working on short films following two young people going through the YDD programme as they go from school drop outs to chefs working in a hotel restaurant and a fully trained mechanic. The hope is that these videos will be used for advocacy work to increase international knowledge of these problems facing the youth in East Jerusalem as well as informing current or potential donors about the work that YDD does.

Burj Al Luq Luq

As well as this, our Jerusalem team has also been working with Burj Al Luq Luq social and community centre. Burj Al Luq Luq acts as a literal beacon of hope within the walls of the Muslim quarter of the Old City. Just off from a busy market street and through alleyways full of rubbish you’ll find a selection of sports pitches and youth facilities that overlook the iconic skyline of the Jerusalem Old City with the mesmerising Dome on the Rock at Al Aqsa Mosque – which the UK volunteers are till yet to visit! Burj Al Luq Luq accommodates various schemes for the Palestinian community in the Old City of Jerusalem. During our time there we have specifically focused on monitoring and evaluating the ‘Jerusalem Ambassadors’ Project, which aims to make efforts to reduce the implications of risks and difficulties that Jerusalemite youth suffer throughout various stages of their lives. This has helped the UK volunteers to once again increase their knowledge of the everyday problems that Palestinians face everyday, with the ‘My Arabic is 100%’ programme dealing with the linguistic challenges of living under occupation.
While we have been here I have been amazed by the hospitality and kind nature of the Palestinians even in the face of daily struggles associated with the occupation. Our team in Jerusalem includes two wonderfully kind Palestinian volunteers – Eman and Amineh – who have been more than happy to introduce us into their culture, whether this is through an Arabic coffee after work or joining them for iftar during Ramadan at Burj Al Luq Luq.  It’s been a completely humbling experience to see this, and I hope that we all use their hospitality and kindness as an example of how we should act upon our return to the UK.

During classical antiquity, Jerusalem was considered the centre of the world, where God resided – and now I know why. I know now that when I go home and hear of Palestine I will no longer think of the ‘war zone’ as my friends and family at home keep describing it. Rather I’ll think of it as home to a beautiful culture, which contains some of the kindest hospitality in the world, delicious food, great friends, and optimism that they will one day break free from a horribly corrupt and hostile situation.

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.

Extract from Mahmoud Darwish's 'In Jerusalem'

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