Monday, 27 April 2015

Right to Education – One Month in Palestine

This weekend marked a month of the UK volunteers being in Palestine, time has really flown. Every day is always an adventure and we are all really in our element. This country and the people still continue to amaze and educate us in more ways than we could ever have imagined and our friendships continue to grow.

All this, however, is still kept in perspective as in the last two weeks we have learnt and witnessed the hidden challenges this nation and its people face. On occasions we have been deeply shocked and moved.

Our first school visit was to a school in a village near Nablus in the West Bank. At present there are only six families left living there. Being in Area C, any building or development is restricted by the Israeli government. Over the years more and more settlements have developed on the hills surrounding this village, almost entrapping Palestinians within their land. These settlements and the actions caused by their inhabitants have driven out many of the families.

On our arrival in the village we were told that only eight children were enrolled in the school. I questioned at first how a school of so few children could have any sort of character or ethos to promote development of the children. How wrong I was! Here I was privileged to meet some of the most inspirational teachers I have ever come across. Yes, there may be seven teachers and eight children in the school, but every day these teachers showed the children that they were equal to other children and had the right to a safe and complete education. Seven teachers were needed to make sure that a full curriculum was open to the children, giving them the opportunity to achieve anything they wanted to with all the future possibilities available to them.

The head teacher told us how being there and keeping the school running was a strong form of resistance by giving the children a protected place where they could study, with less fear. This school showed me that it is not the size of the buildings or the number of pupils, but truly the people, that create the character and ethos that guide both teachers and students.

Monday the 20th of April was International Volunteer Recognition Day. All of the UK and Palestinian volunteers joined together at Al Quds University in Abu Dis, along with volunteers from other organisations, for a day of presentations on the importance of volunteering. It was great to hear about other projects that volunteers from around the country and abroad were participating in, and the motivations that made them want to participate. I was a little surprised to find out that all the university students here in Palestine have to complete a certain number of voluntary hours to be awarded their degrees. This means that all our Palestinian co-volunteers are participating in ICS on top of any hours they had to do at university. To me this seemed a little strange, as for us volunteering is something that helps define our interests and passions, and some what gives us another strand of our CV. Everyone volunteers in Palestine, which makes it hard to stand out against the crowd, especially when the job market currently has limited options for graduates. All the Palestinians I spoke to also seemed shocked to find out that volunteering was not a compulsory part of UK degrees.

Elections for the new student body took place this week and on Tuesday we went to observe the debate. Comparing the elections here to any student university elections in the UK is near impossible as the differences are so great. Firstly, students are representing the same parties that stand for government. The biggest three parties standing were Fatah, Hamas, and Jubha. The debate was really intense, with many students piling into the square to hear the representatives speak, along with watching from the windows of surrounding buildings. Although it was all in Arabic, being part of the group you could feel that it meant a great deal to the students. With a lack of general elections, this vote can be seen as one of the biggest representations of public political opinion, in the country. The square was filled with banners and flags for each of the parties, and they paraded through campus with drums and chanting at the beginning and end of the debate. Although the experience was rather intimidating at times, being so different to all student elections I’ve been part of in the UK, it was really a privilege to have seen it.

The past week we have also had a meeting with Al Haq, who are one of the leading human rights NGOs in Palestine. Learning about the work they do and the documentation they collect was really interesting. Although the focus was on educational violations, the meeting also gave us a further insight into some of business and human rights issues they work on. Holding a discussion with them led us to develop some new ideas that we want to integrate into our own projects. For example, we want to research Al Haq's past recorded violations, then go back out into the field ourselves and write a follow-up report of the current situation. We also plan to create a documentary, trailing children’s journeys to school from all over the country, and asking their views on education. With this we hope to be able to compare it to children’s journeys to school and thoughts on education from around the world.

We look forward to bringing you further news of how the project continues in coming weeks, so watch this space!

Ma’a Salama.

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