Unipal returned to Nablus for the first time in many years; Tes the coordinator had been working for Project Hope in Balata camp and brought her knowledge of the city to the programme. It was also a first for Unipal to work in a Palestinian Authority school, taking classes in the nearby small town of Beit Furik, about a 20-minute drive from Nablus.
The residents of Beit Furik were so supportive of the three volunteers who were based there and many turned up to help translate for some of the younger children. The well-equipped classrooms and large playgrounds meant the volunteers were able to mix indoor learning with outdoor activities and games such as dancing and rounders.
At the end of the programme the team took the children to a play park where there was a large fun fair area and pool, both of which were thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The two other members of the team worked at a local NGO, Seeds for Development and Culture. The class sizes were much smaller which meant the teachers were able to go into greater detail with their lessons. Lana describes her class as a ‘pleasure to teach – they were well behaved with a real enthusiasm to learn.’
For their day out at the end of the programme, the children were taken to Skatepal in Asira, an NGO that teaches children how to use skateboards. This event was really successful and the Skatepal team were really happy to assist in giving each child individual coaching.
Katie and Niamh and Christina taught afternoon adult classes at Seeds for Development with ages ranging from 15 to 60. ‘We discussed everything from marriage, careers, dreams and ambitions to environmentalism, politics, music, travel and religion. The different ages and perspectives of the class members meant that discussions were always diverse, and as a result I got to know my students very quickly,’ Katie says. ‘I look back at my time at Seeds For Development with fond memories of the friendships I made.’
Jeel al-Amal in Bethany
Teams have worked at Jeel al-Amal in Bethany since 2008. Many excellent changes have taken place in the buildings and the management team have plenty more ideas for improvements.
Every year new boys arrive, but sadly other boys move on and some of the original lads are now too old to be at Jeel.
The team – Panna, Ferdusi and Clemmie – kept the younger boys busy with lots of craft and art activities, reading stories and playing games. ‘What child doesn't enjoy gluey fingers?’ Ferdusi laughs. She helped them make little folded football shirts to colour. Once a week, the teams took them to the local swimming pool, which is always very popular with the boys.
They were able to go on a few trips, including a visit to Ramallah where the boys had a fun swimming session followed by a thrilling afternoon at an adventure park called Skyland, with rides on bumper cars and roller coasters. They also took the boys north to a park near Jenin and for a day trip to Jericho.
The high level of local violence was noticeable this year as Clemmie explains: ‘This year the Israeli army were very visibly present; the tear gas bombing was intense and local businesses struggled – food prices increased drastically. During a trip to Abu Dis University, where the boys have computer lessons, they were finding and picking up old tear gas bombs and showing them to us. For them, it was everyday life.’
Despite all the difficulties the boys endure, they are still a pleasure to be around, helping each other and sharing all they have in the good care of brilliant house fathers and house mothers.
Fawwar camp near Hebron
Five volunteers travelled with co-ordinator Andy to Fawwar camp, south of Hebron, where they received the usual warm welcome from people there. Sinead and Mary lived in the women’s centre and soon had a steady stream of female visitors keen to learn about the volunteers and exchange life stories.
Jack found his classes in the schools to be very engaged – he says the girls were keen to know about his family and life in the UK, whereas the boys were much more interested in whether he supported Real Madrid or Barcelona!
Sinead says: ‘I adored every minute of teaching in the schools! I loved my classes and would happily have brought all my children home to teach them in Dublin for the rest of the year.’
Michael also found the morning classes his favourite part of the project. ‘The enthusiasm of the kids in Fawwar was absolutely second to none and I found that they were always full of energy and life in my classroom,’ he explains. ‘This is particularly important when you see what they are up against and the issues that face them and their families day to day in the camp.’
Jack and Sinead taught a couple of evening classes at the activist group called Youth Against Settlements (YAS), with learners aged up to 60. ‘They were the keenest learners I taught,’ Jack says. ‘It is one of the most peculiar places I have ever visited – teaching English on a balcony directly opposite a pathway where Israeli soldiers constantly patrol.’
Sinead believes: 'The work that YAS is doing is really interesting and I think that witnessing part of it is a really important experience for foreign volunteers, such as myself, to have during our trip to Palestine.’
During their free time, the volunteers visited other parts of the country, had a guided tour of the old City of Hebron, were taken to a local football match – Ahli Al-Khaleel vs Shabab Rafeh – and of course took advantage of the many invites they received for dinner with local families.
Andy – who has been to the region many times with his work – loved his time in Fawwar. He says: ‘We were smothered with hospitality and kindness. We all loved Fawwar by the end...it embraced us and I think we all felt very much at home.’
This was Unipal’s ninth year in Jeel al-Amal
There were several new younger children and the team prepared a fun-packed few weeks full of the usual craft and art activities, with the older boys providing help and care. The volunteers had taken some plain canvas bags to the project and each of the boys had one to design and colour. Most chose to have their name on one side and often a favourite footballer’s name on the other side. It was quite a challenge writing Schweinsteiger in the small space!
Two trips to water parks were organised, one to Jericho and one to Nablus. The boys go every week to the local swimming pool so most are very able and confident in the water, and it’s one of their favourite activities. The team always enjoy the days out too because it is good to spend time with the house mothers in a relaxed environment.
The boys entertained the team this year with the magic tricks they have be learning, and some of them were really impressive! Further murals were produced for the school walls, which once again the boys loved joining in with.
A number of changes have taken place at the school. A brilliant new kitchen and dinning area has smartened up the building and the play area has been restocked with new equipment.
A team of four women spent four weeks living and teaching in Deir Ammar camp. All were humbled by the welcome they received: ‘The people in the camp were extremely warm and welcoming, and their hospitality was astonishing. Wherever we walked, we would be waved at and invited into homes for tea or even dinner.'
The group lived with a family who made the volunteers feel at home, cooking meals and providing laundry facilities, and even providing Wi-Fi. 'They are the most generous family I've ever met,' said one of the volunteers.
Over the four weeks the team covered the alphabet (a lot!) with the boys, basic introductions, family, emotions, colours, clothes, appearances and a bit of transport. A highlight was making origami cars with them, because they enjoyed it so much.
With the girls, craft activities were linked into these topics – making family chains, lollipop people, flags, and little figurines wearing traditional Palestinian dresses. At the end of most lessons they sang English songs, which proved to be a brilliant way to get the children engaged and show them a practical application of English. The girls sang a couple of songs at the end of term party.
Some afternoons the team held conversation classes with older teenage girls. They enjoyed talking about a wider range of topics and, of course, not to having to tell them to be quiet and sit down! They also held sessions for children aged three to seven, who were too young to join in the morning classes. The children enjoyed listening to English stories, singing English songs, playing games and doing craft activities.
Deir Ammar is in a very beautiful rural location, but the team realised the inhabitants still feel an affiliation with the places from which their families originate, despite the passing of time. When they asked the children where they came from, they would respond with the name of the village from which their grandparents or great-grandparents had fled.
The Jeel al-Amal programme in Bethany is now in its eighth year and the boys were full of excitement having just celebrated Eid at the end of Ramadan.
The team ran a fun programme with of lots of craft activities with the younger boys, such as making models, sticking and painting. Sports activities were popular, with table tennis a particular favourite. Each week the boys went swimming at the local pool and were happy to jump around and swim for two hours. Peter was happy to join in the fun with them when we visited the programme.
The boys also attended computer classes at nearby Al Quds University.
Clemmie says: ‘This was my third year of returning to Jeel al-Amal and every year my experience is utterly unique. To see each child develop and his confidence grow entices me back each year. It is wonderful to see how the staff at Jeel is so utterly dedicated to the children’s social, emotional and educational needs; fighting for progress within the school despite the barrier of the occupation. The school is a very special place.’
Fawwar camp has been home to Unipal programmes for a number of years but it was the first time that women volunteers had lived and worked in the camp in a long while. For volunteer Hebe being in a Muslim, Arab community was a culture shock. However, Ms Faiza, head teacher of the girls’ school, was very welcoming.
The team taught lessons on the themes of clothes, colours, food and time, and included games of ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ when the pupils needed to get out of the classroom to stretch their legs.
Afternoons were spent in three locations – Sharek Centre, the Women’s Centre in the old City, and the Polytechnic University where the volunteers taught three afternoons a week. Teaching university students offered a good contrast to teaching children in the camp, and as the classes were of mixed ability, it presented quite a challenge when planning lessons.
The team settled into life in the camp and all commented on how welcoming, friendly, respectful and generous the people were. Kathryn explains: ‘Women would often speak to us, showing us their embroidery and offering us juice. We received many social offers. While we didn’t attend every invite, we had some wonderful dinners with families across the camp. We ate with Ms Faiza on a number of occasions, which was always great. The volunteers and I loved going there – amazing food, humour and interesting conversation made it one of our favourite destinations.’
The difficulty of daily life for people in the camp became clear to the volunteers; prices of basic items have risen hugely and employment opportunities are few and poorly paid.
Hebe sums up the reality of life for the refugees: ‘It makes you feel odd when you realise that your passport really is that, a passbook to pretty much anywhere in the world, whereas the Palestinian passport is a block to travel.’
The team was still shocked by how people’s daily lives are affected by the occupation. One of them explains: ‘ When we arrived, the road into the camp was closed, which had a massive affect on people getting to work, getting things into the camp, and for children attending summer school lessons. This programme provided us with an insight as to how the occupation affects every aspect of daily life for the Palestinians.’
As usual, mornings were spent teaching in the UNRWA schools. Art activities were popular especially with the girls. The team had brought plain t-shirts from England for each pupil, and the children coloured designs for Unipal 2016 so each had their own momento of the summer.
One volunteer says of his group: 'The girls were so smart and engaging, which meant I also had to be at the top of my game as they demanded it. The girls stretched me, but this was fantastic and meant we had a great time together.'
Another says ' Despite the time at the UNRWA schools being very challenging, it was also incredibly rewarding. The kids were full of life, enjoyed themselves a lot and we were sad when our time at the camp finished.'
Afternoon classes at the university were also enjoyed. 'The students had a good level of English. It was a fantastic opportunity for cultural exchange and conversation. We were able to cover a number of topics and play games to practise fluency. They were most eager to learn and seemed to thoroughly enjoy our classes.'
At the end of the project, the team took the children to a local swimming pool. The volunteers were well and truly soaked by the pupils, and every one had a great time. ‘They obviously loved it, and it was a great way to end our time with them.’
Deir Ammar, situated in the hills northwest from Ramallah is a lovely place to spend a few weeks. The volunteers were warmly welcomed by the head teacher of the boys’ school Mr Hasan who offered so much help with finding accommodation for the team and many other aspects of the programme.
The volunteers taught classes in both the boys’ and the girls’ schools which were enjoyed by children and volunteers alike. Several topics were covered during the three weeks including clothing, family, shopping and colours with the emphasis on new vocabulary and speaking. Alexandra also comments on the importance of other activities too: ‘It was great having some fun days as well as normal classes. I highly recommend a sports day, fashion shows and water fights!’
Sadly there is little opportunity for afternoon classes in the camp, although Naina, the co-ordinator, tried hard to set up sessions with women from the camp. However, during the final week, the team were able to offer their skills at PACE (Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange) based in Ramallah, where they assisted in the editing of a guidebook in English. ‘By helping to edit the guide book, I was able to learn more about the West Bank from a local perspective’ Alexandra explains.
Ferdusi valued her time in Palestine: ‘After three intense weeks with my team, I found that I had learned a lot about myself. I had known for a long time that I wanted to learn more about Palestine and the people. I also wanted to deepen my understanding of the occupation and all its problems and how it impacts Palestinians on a daily basis. I loved meeting the kind and generous people in Deir Ammar and the other places we visited in Palestine.’
Alexandra sums up her feelings, saying, ‘Deir Ammar was the perfect camp. I felt wanted by the camp and very welcome. I’m aware that there is only so much you can do when teaching for three weeks. However, I did feel that I gained a lot by being there, and I hope people in Deir Ammar learned from us. I know the students enjoyed themselves.’
2014 and 2013
Jeel al-Amal 2014
Volunteer Katie Lines was one of a group of three who worked with the boys at Jeel al-Amal school in Bethany. The group were really enthusiastic about their work and ran some brilliant activities, including lessons on numbers and the sea. To make it more fun the boys were split into two teams to do a treasure hunt around the school finding fish that had been hidden. The boys also made card fish and posters of the sea to stick them on.
‘The boys are really good at sharing and helping each other,’ says Katie. ‘Of course, they have lots of cheeky character too, and when Kathryn, another volunteer, and I ran a football-focused lesson using football stickers I noticed lots of the stickers were slipped into pockets and then traded in the corner!’
The day trips were greatly enjoyed by all and the boys would talk excitedly about the trips for days beforehand. They went to two theme parks and as soon as they arrived, the older boys, who were allowed to go around them on their own, ran off to find the biggest, scariest ride they could muster up the courage to go on. Some of the more daring staff at Jeel also took the chance to go on the rides with the boys, although they didn't handle being spun around quite as well!
The trip to the outdoor water park was also really good fun. The boys love swimming, and clearly relished playing in a huge pool with water slides. The location was beautiful, with a view over the Palestinian hills. At lunch some of the older boys sat looking out over the hills. Katie comments, ‘I didn’t realise how beautiful the landscape is.
Having studied history, I relished having a chance to explore areas of such huge historical significance. However, I was also deeply frustrated and saddened by witnessing the daily impact the troubles in the region have upon Palestinians.’
There was a party at the end of the programme. The team made party bags and played pass the parcels and there was lots of cake eating and dancing. The boys loved their party gifts – particularly the football cards and bubble blowers.