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It’s really not fair how the young Palestinians in and around Nablus city have to find their way in ‎life. It was not fair the first time I did the Zajel work camp of An-Najah University in 2004 and it’s ‎not fair now. But I did see some progress and even though it’s not fair to compare this year’s ‎workshop with the one I participated in more than a decade ago, in this reflection I will focus on ‎this comparison.‎

By: Stijl Olsteke

For starters the world was still a lot bigger when I signed up for the first time. There were no ‎smartphones yet, no Facebook, no Google Maps - so the first difference I noticed was the way ‎coordinators, volunteers and other travellers communicate with each other: email and SMS has been ‎replaced by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. ‎

Of course, the political situation is a lot different too. In 2004 the Second Intifada was still very ‎much underway and posters of martyrs were plastered all over the center of Nablus. I was happy to ‎see most of the facades covered with advertisements for beautiful Palestinian clothing instead.‎

The third big difference is the professionalization and scaling of the camp. During my previous visit ‎the local and international volunteers would eat, sleep, shower, wash clothes, receive lectures and ‎lessons all in the same building: an old primary school (boys and girls separated). Now the ‎international males slept in a flat not too far from the university where we would give our ‎workshops. We would eat in a bistro and wash our clothes in a laundry service nearby. The scale of ‎the work camp has exploded: whereas there were some 20 local volunteers in 2004, there were over ‎‎60 volunteers in 2017. ‎

The fourth difference is a logical result from the two previously mentioned developments. Thanks ‎to a decade of relative political stability, combined with a period of professionalization, I noticed a ‎greater sense of detachment. Both in public lectures and in personal conversations, I noticed a more ‎cosmopolitan perspective and a greater sense of humor and relativity.

In Hebron we got to experience the weight of the occupation first hand: the international volunteers ‎were temporarily separated from the locals and, due to a mistake on our part, we had to pass ‎through checkpoint twice to catch up again. It took us more than an hour to go through this ‎checkpoint with only 23 internationals. We could only begin to imagine how it must feel to ensure ‎this hassle and humiliation on a daily basis.

I really enjoyed contributing to the English lessons with some of the other volunteers; the eagerness ‎and enthusiasm of the students was so rewarding! And last but not least I liked the informal ‎meetings and friendships I got to make throughout the camp as well!‎

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