It’s hard to believe our time working at Birzeit has come to an end. I think I can speak for everyone on our projects in saying that we don’t want to leave yet! The students have been fantastic and I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress getting something valuable off the ground, despite a long hiatus and with little continuity from the previous Advancement placement.
We’ve established a regular programme for our language workshops and have been delighted to see a consistent group of keen attendees. We now have a short gap before the next volunteers arrive, but we’re hoping that by providing our successors with details of how we’ve run things we can make it reasonably easy for them to pick up where we left off, and keep many of the same students involved.
Some of our last sessions focused on Women’s Rights, Interview Skills and Politics.The Women’s Rights discussion was led by other ICS volunteers here, who are partnered with WCLAC (Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling). It was great to have the variety of volunteers from another project running a session, and informative to hear a bit about what the organisation does. They also led a session which got students really involved in actively expressing their views about gender roles in Palestinian society, allowing scope for them to use advanced vocabulary while keeping discussions inclusive. I thought it was a great session and enabled students to discuss the issues intelligently, and clearly express a wide range of views.
The Interviews workshop was a good way to do something further on careers, which we hopefully made a bit more fun and interactive than one can easily make CV writing! We’ve been really lucky throughout our project to have great support from the lovely people in the university’s Alumni & Careers Services office, and their help in structuring these careers-focused sessions was no exception.
Our final sessions on Politics were perhaps a little more controversial, but were I think an important inclusion and one requested by quite a number of students. Adopting a structure where we assigned everyone a particular side in a debate, we found that students were impressively calm and took the time to carefully and accurately express their positions with really good English.
We concluded our last full week at Birzeit by bringing some food and having a farewell gathering in our usual classroom. Our students suggested an amazingly wide range of music for us and got most of us attempting to dance dabka at one point, with varying levels of success. We’re really going to miss them all!
I hope that during our time here we’ve given students some support with their language skills and careers knowledge, and we’ve had fun learning about each other and our respective cultures. I’d like to think that as the first placement for a while, we have also laid foundations that will enable subsequent groups to continue with a bit more momentum and do more for Birzeit students in the future.
I think we have also gained a lot from the project. I’ve learned a huge amount about Palestine and the amazing people here, as well as improving my skills in teaching and communicating, sometimes in spite of the language barriers that we have been trying to reduce.
I think that some of these skills will transfer to our lives in the UK generally, but the experience has also piqued my interest in charitable work and international development. I’m grateful to have learnt more about the situation in Palestine and the root causes making life here so difficult for many people. I believe all our projects with ICS have done some good during the placements, but living here it is also hard to ignore the impact of outside governments’ decisions upon Palestinians’ daily lives. I hope to persuade at least a few people at home to consider their positions more carefully, and encourage their political representatives to do the same.
As a charity International Service do not take a political stance, but I think we should remember that the humanitarian struggles of Palestinians do not exist in a vacuum. The root causes of many difficulties here are inherently political, and external political pressure is a crucial element in affecting change.