I have spent the last two months volunteering at Alrowwad For Culture and Arts! which is part of the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. The purpose of the Centre is to provide alternatives to violent expression for young children, mainly through a focus on the arts, dance, music, language, poetry and Palestinian culture, chiefly as means of nonviolent expression for the children but also as an alternative form of resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Over this period and under the guidance of my wonderfully supportive and very smart supervisor Marwa Romi, I have worked to support the children through numerous activities such as drawing, painting, English lessons and football.
However, it struck me that by virtue of the Camp's set up there was very limited scope for the children to engage with and be part of nature.
So I put the idea to Marwa to take a small group of children to the sea, the Dead Sea. She in turn put this to the Director of Alrowwad, Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour, who thought this was a "beautiful idea."
Great!! So the next step was to raise money for the trip!
So I put a "business case" to Leila who does a wonderful job helping to run the Summer Palestine Program, which I am part of. Leila, being the fabulous person that she is, also thought this was a great idea and put it to the Holy Land Trust - who in turn very generously agreed to fund a bus and 8 children for the trip. So all sorted!
I then managed to get Kate Shuttleworth, a New Zealand journalist working in Jerusalem, to come along with a view to potentially covering the story.
So Marwa (and her niece) Mira (the children's teacher) and her husband Essa, the 8 children, and Kate and I went off in our quite swanky bus to the Dead Sea last Thursday.
We had a wonderful day. It was so lovely to watch the children's first experience of the sea. None of the children had been to the sea in their short lives so it was with great anticipation and then joy that we arrived at the Resort. We came armed with litres of water and plenty of food so we were well prepared and armed for the arduous heat and very salty water.
And then the kids experienced the strange sensation of the salty water. They entered the water with little apprehension and huge grins on their faces. And had to be cautioned against splashing too much! Although it was very hot (it reached 45 degrees) the children coped well with the salty water - and we didn't have too many cases of the kids stinging their eyes. And of course they simply loved covering themselves in the mud - and being photographed! And then running to the outside shower and washing themselves down. Bliss!
We stayed at the sea for about 4 hours (10.30 to 2.30), and then piled into the bus for the next leg of our journey - to Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited place on earth, for more fun. At Jericho the children had a great time taking rides with a very patient and compliant statesman-like camel.
And then we all went up in the gondola to get a fabulous view of the Jordan Valley. The kids screamed with joy as we rattled our way up towards the summit. The views were fabulous. There was a tinge of sadness amongst the adults as we looked across the very beautiful valley. I spoke with Marwa about what occupation has meant here for the Palestinian people whose livelihoods are completely tied to the land (their own land) - but which they have such limited ability to now exploit as a result of Israeli settlement development, land confiscation, severe water restrictions (which are diverted to the settlements.
But we also commented on the great resilience of the Palestinian people to rise above this hardship.
The sounds of the kids laughter pulled me back into the present moment and why and who wee were here for. On coming back down on the gondola,and with much more confidence, we all enjoyed an ice cream, more camel rides and then we were back on the bus back home.
In fact the bus ride was great fun - the very nice and kind bus driver put on lively and very popular music for the kids. And although not strictly allowed, we let some of the wee kids dance in the aisle while the adults clapped and sang. Such fun!
So a great day was had by all. And for me it was such a joy to be part of this experience with the joyous kids and the lovely lovely adults.