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So, you’ve completed the application, and have been accepted onto the programme, what next?

By: Mussurut Jones

I had mixed feelings once I received the email of acceptance from Zajel Program, ranging from excitement to fear. One thing was certain, that I would definitely be participating. At that point I had not really considered anything related to my involvement in the programme, other than the workshops I would be delivering, however the two weeks have been much, much more than that.

Zajel and its team put together a wide, diverse and varied schedule, of which the workshops were one component. Visits were arranged to meaningful places of interest such as the Balata Refugee Camp, which was inspiring and painful in equal parts, and allowed me to gain an insight into the lived reality of occupation.

Bethlehem allowed me space to revisit my childhood memories of attending a Catholic School and being able to put structure and substance to places I had only read or heard about. The guides are thorough in imparting information and knowledge, which is essential to gain a deeper understanding. Introductions to NGO’s such as Badil, and individuals like Lubnah and Baha were instrumental in gaining true understanding and knowledge of the issues being faced on a daily basis by Palestinians.

Visiting and seeing the separation wall, and all the messages was sobering, and difficult for me to deal with. This, alongside walking through Hebron, hammered home what occupation means. local volunteers were not allowed to walk through with us, and this gave a physical demonstration of apartheid, separation, and segregation. This was a highly emotional time, many international volunteers were affected, some cried, many withdrew into themselves, in order to process the reality of what they had just experienced.

There was an overnight stay in a Bedouin Camp, which I was a little apprehensive about, however, as always, Zajel has done a wonderful job in arranging a once in a lifetime experience for us. The hospitality, the warmth, the food, the interest, all exceeded my expectations. Most of all, the opportunity to sit and have close discussions and conversations with my peers brokered and cemented friendships for life.

The visit to Jerusalem was again emotionally charged, and although it meant that a lifelong dream of visiting Al-Aqsa would be realized, I was saddened by the fact that the local volunteers couldn’t go with us. The checkpoint was a horrible experience, being herded like cattle, at the whim of Israeli security personnel was frightening, however I had some protection due to my nationality and passport. Whilst in the queue, I was struck by the calm and dignified manner in which Palestinians managed this terrible humiliation, and particularly the children, who behaved in a manner that is a credit to Palestine. No child anywhere in the world should have to go through checkpoints, facing guns, and accepting that this is what is necessary for them to carry out activities in their daily lives.

There are many things I could write, however I cannot do them justice; for example, I certainly did not expect to be a guest of honour at a local wedding in Jenin, where we were made so welcome. I have had a profound experience on many levels, and am more determined than ever to continue my support for my Palestinian brothers and sisters. As a volunteer, be prepared for wonderful food, hospitality, care, genuine concern for your welfare, Zajel always insisting on drinking water, and wearing a hat, local volunteers prepared to do anything to assist you, and students in workshops embracing you openly, with utmost respect.

Be prepared to be flexible and accept changes at short notice. Understand that we cannot view life in Palestine through our personal and national frame of reference, this is a unique situation, unlike any other in the world. Be prepared to have your ideas and images of Palestine shattered by the reality. It is not an easy trip, it is painful, hurtful, and at times full of despair. However, it is also inspirational, and hopeful, and imbibes a sense of duty and responsibility. My heart is full, of hurt and hope, and I am well aware that this is only the beginning of my physical interaction with Palestine.

I want to say a personal thank you to all the international volunteers, for the laughs and support you gave me. The local volunteers, for all your respect and hospitality, and for embracing me with open arms. Finally, thank you Zajel, for welcoming me home.

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