During our stay in Bethlehem, we went every day at Aida Camp trying to be useful in one of the three organizations in the camp, Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society. Alrowwad, initiator of “Beautiful Resistance”, is an independent, dynamic, community-based non-profit organization that strives to empower children and women by forming behavior, knowledge and practices through creative and non-violent means. We stayed 5 days in this organization doing some translations of their brochure and newsletters and joining their education unit. Basically we prepared some activities and games with the kids that were coming to their center. Because we chose to do Couchsurfing in Bethlehem and not to have accommodation in the camp it was an awkward situation but we overcame it. For us, Couchsurfing was a way to save money and to interact also with people outside the camp to understand more about the occupation.
Aida Camp was established in 1950 by refugees from the Jerusalem and Hebron areas, about 1125 refugees living in 94 tents. Meanwhile, according to the UNRWA, the camp had a population of approximately 5,498 refugees at the end of 2014. On our first day, we were a little surprised to realize that we were walking in the camp without knowing that we were in the camp. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but the camp is similar to a periphery neighborhood where some people live in deep poverty and some people found some ways to have better conditions of living. Some of the refugees were able to move or to leave the country but most of them don’t have this possibility and they still hope to receive their land back. The Key of Return is the symbol of the camp representing the people’s hope and right of having back their houses. The key is also a widely used symbol of the Nakba, as many Palestinians kept the keys to their homes when they were forced into exile in 1948.
One of my goal there was to interact with children asking them about their dreams and about what they would want to send a message to other kids from Europe. Very sweet and beautiful in my European mindset but I didn’t take into consideration the fact that these people are under occupation and answering my questions could be taken as a form of activism. Children in the camp are very smart and politically aware of what they should or should not do, even taking photos was a challenge. What I was able to do was to ask them about their future and it was really powerful to observe that most of them have big dreams. Being teachers, mostly the girls, or becoming doctors, artists or musicians these were the most often received answers from them. There were some situations when they said that they want to become nothing, I believe that this is an answer of a kid that lost his naivety and realized how complicated it could be to have a job in their country. This answer could be also related to religion in the girls’ case because maybe their families are not supporting them for having a higher education. On the other hand, in the last years, they became more aware of the right to education for girls and even if the religion doesn’t support gender equality, more than 70% of students in the Palestinians universities are girls.
With the help of the organization, we visited the school in the camp but because we didn’t have official approval, we didn’t attend classes or speak with teachers. It was a nice surprise to see such a colorful and peaceful environment and happy students that were welcoming us. This was a Governmental school for primary and secondary classes. It was interesting to see the change of shifts, in the morning were the primary classes with boys and girls mixed, for secondary they have girls classes and boys separated. In Palestine are another two types of school, private and UN schools. Regarding the private schools, they could be only for boys, only for girls or mixed. The UN schools are international like the American School, we met two girls from the camp studying there and they had a very good English and French, but they were saying that they work very hard every day.
On our last day in the organization, we visited Al-Hijiri school in Dura village close to Hebron. We participated in an interactive activity called “We play and draw a smile”, and it happened exactly like that because all the students were overexcited to play with us and to meet us. The school was on a hill and quite small but the teachers and the children there succeeded to make us feel like home. I embraced their happiness and I took enough energy to remember this day as a very special one. After the activities, I liked very much that the principle with the other teachers and organizers had a meeting where they thanked for this day but they also tried to give some feedback in order to make better future activities. In the end, they offered us some Palestinians patisseries that we enjoyed a lot. I felt grateful that we had the opportunity through the Alrowwad organization to visit this school. I realized again that in small communities, schools are full of living, authenticity and openness to the new people. When we left, some students were running after our car shouting goodbye, I hope that I will have the chance to come back because their smiles left a mark on my memory.