On Monday January 19th the Excellence Center organized a trip for its international volunteers to the Al-Fawar Refugee Camp outside of Hebron. The visit was organized by Center Manager Rafat Shantir and Ibrahim Nassar, a youth activist and teaching assistant at Palestine Polytechnic University. International volunteers included Muhammad Davies, Luke Mercurio, Rita Leistner, and Felix Luftin. The Center’s staff arrived and were greeted by Ibrahim who began to show them around the area.
It was immediately clear that conditions within the camp were extremely impoverished: buildings were cramped, with many in disrepair, there were large amounts of garbage strewn about, and it was evident that much of the infrastructure was close to crumbling. The people themselves however were bright and hospitable. Large groups of children ran to meet and speak with the Center group, and after the initial meeting continued to follow the internationals around as they completed their tour. They were particularly drawn to Felix, an artist from Boston. The group was also able to view some murals which were painted by residents with the Excellence Center on previous visits.
Ibrahim then escorted the Center’s members through the camp’s back alleys where they were able to see some of the first UN built houses (now completely destroyed), as well as the camps only communal play area which was, sadly, not actually used by the children. When asked why this was the children responded that they didn’t know how to play anywhere but in the streets, a profound statement considering many of them were no older than five or six years old.
The group continued on and Ibrahim made one excellence point about the conditions in the camp, namely that although many of the residents require help, they often refuse to help themselves. He commented that whenever a problem occurs within the camp it is quickly blamed on the military occupation, however this is foolish, because although the occupation certainly plays a large part in the peoples’ plight many other factors are well within their control. The garbage, for instance, could be curtailed by a concentrated community effort, however most residents have simply fallen into an apathetic compliance and refuse to take strong measures to improve their neighborhood.
After the initial tour the group was led to the home of Ibrahim’s parents where they were invited to take it the beautiful sunset view from the family’s roof. Photojournalist Rita Leistner had a field day photographing the fantastic vista, although the view was tempered by the sobering reality that over ten thousand refugees were packed in the tiny camp town below. Afterward relaxing on the roof for a while the group retired downstairs to drink coffee and have a meal with Ibrahim’s family. The delicious homemade hummus was a particular favorite.
The group then said their goodbyes and headed back to the Center, although the experience had certainly made a lasting impression on all involved– in terms of the both the strength and resolve of the camp residents, and the harsh conditions they must face as a result of the continued military occupation.