Meet Elham Nasserdin from Jerusalem who volunteered with the Excellence Center for 2 months
““It’s hot today”, I say to myself, but still I am wearing my denim jacket. I have to to avoid any temptations of removing the jacket; after all you mustn’t show your bare arms in Hebron.
I reach the Damascus gate in Jerusalem and look for the man shouting “Khalil, Khalil”, and walk towards his direction. “You are here late” he says – I smile and get on his bus. Most of the drivers know me by now as I have become a regular as it’s been half a month since I started volunteering in Hebron.
I wait 40 minutes for the bus to fill up. I’m joined by two old women, three young men and one German foreigner and the bus is finally ready to embark on its one hour journey.
The bus eventually reaches Khalil and as I walk to my place of work where I am embraced by the daily shouts of the same four children, “Here is the Mexican!” People usually mistake me for an Israeli or an American but this is a first. My concentrated efforts of explaining my Palestinian identity are drowned out by the excitement of talking to the “Mexican foreigner who speaks Arabic.” I reach The Excellence Centre, the place where I volunteer. This is the place where I teach and it makes me feel alive”.
From one Palestinian to another
“I want to talk to you as one Palestinian to another. A lot of foreigners, from a wide variety of backgrounds who all have one thing in common, that they are eager to learn and yearning for culture, come to volunteer in Hebron. I have never understood the fascination internationals have with our city. Why do they come all the way from the U.S, Switzerland, Denmark, and Germany etc. to volunteer or to learn in Hebron? I have often asked myself why I as a Palestinian don’t have that same passion about volunteering in my own hometown?
I have lived in Palestine for 19 years intermittently and it was just very recently that I have felt a genuine connection with this Land. It was only when I became involved with the Excellence Center and when I travelled around Palestine, that I began to understand why people cross the globe to come to volunteer or to study here.
In Hebron, but also in Palestine at large, people are generally very hospitable and that is particularly true amongst the more traditional elements of society. Take a stroll in Ein Sara, a very busy street in Hebron, and you will be met with the most delightful smiles. People are not afraid to help you out, give you directions, offer you free food, show you around and make you feel like you belong and that you never want to leave.
Volunteering for me, became much more than an act of giving. I receive the joys of exploring Hebron, the smiles on the students’ faces, the genuine respect they give you once they realise you are a Palestinian, seeking to help other Palestinians, and I have gained a better understanding and appreciation for my own country. I get to make local and international friends, broaden my understanding of other cultures and traditions and generate friendships that extend much further than Palestine.
So come on Palestinians, take the initiative and volunteer! Become a self-appointed cultural ambassador, who introduces people to the Palestinian Arab culture with a personal touch and allow them to form their own experiences and viewpoints on the land we call home”.