It’s difficult not to feel depressed during this trip. Visiting two refugee camps certainly helped to paint a bleak picture of the people living in occupied Palestine. However, our visit showed us how compassionate, and resilient people can be.
Jenin and New Askar are both refugee camps, with similar stories. They are called camps, however today you can see cinder block buildings instead of tents. People where first forced to move to these places in 1948 during the Nakba. Originally tents where provided, and the people where told they would live here for a few weeks or a month and then could return to their homes. As time wore on they began building houses. Typically the homes where built close together with narrow streets because there was no room to expand outward.
During the second Intifada tanks drove through the village destroyed many of the houses to create a wider path in Jenin. There is now a large street with shops running through Jenin were homes once stood. The people of the village built a large horse created out of rubble from when the homes where destroyed.
In New Askar we heard many different stories about the challenges of everyday life. We saw a dumpster overflowing with garbage because services have stopped. We heard stories about soldiers shooting holes into water tanks. We also learned that if a prisoner dies while in prison they will keep the body until the term is completed, and then send it back to the family.
When you ask a resident in either town, where they are from they will tell you their family home village or city.
In Jenin we visited the Freedom Theater http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/
They provide an outlet for youth to express themselves and to help cope with traumatic events that can occur on a regular basis.
Classes started in 2008 with young people who feel they are in the outside fringes of society and has since continued to grow. They offer classes in multimedia, film, and photography. The theater publishes a youth magazine and now has a ensemble that travels the world.
One project they are working on is a playback theater. Audience members share a story about their lives, and the actors improvise it. These stories have been collected and turned into plays.
In New Askar we stopped at the Keffiyah center https://keffiyehcenter.wordpress.com. This place was built as a response to the lack of schools and services available for youth. The center offers a summer camp with sports, languages, music, dance, theatre and Gymnastics amongst many others. They also have a youth leadership program, and teach culture and history. Classes are taught by both local and international volunteers. They vary based on whatever knowledge the teachers bring.