Saturday, October 10, 2015

WCLAC: Same vision, different backgrounds

Meet the new team of volunteers working at WCLAC for the next 10 weeks...


After graduating from university in 2013 and having spent the past year and a half volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau and working in a law firm, I needed a change. I've wanted to work with underrepresented people for quite some time and this is the main goal I am hoping to achieve during my placement with WCLAC. I'm passionate about women's rights and am really looking forward to working with some truly inspirational people at the Women's centre in their campaign to bring about change for women in the oPt.

We arrived almost three weeks ago and met our in-country counterparts at the training session the following day. We were introduced to day to day life here in the oPt and what we were hoping to achieve within our projects. The muslim holiday Eid al-Adha began the day after training and we were able to enjoy some of the festivities. The in-country volunteers brought in some traditional Eid sweets called ka'ak bi ma'moul for us to try which were delicious!


I volunteered with ICS because I want to make a difference in my community and myself but I lack the tools and methods to achieve it and that’s what I hope ICS will do for me.

Eid is an arabic word that means holiday or festival, muslims have two major Eids ( Eid al-Ftir & Eid al-Adha). Two weeks ago it was Eid al-Adha which means the Festival of Sacrifice, during this holiday we wake up early and go to pray in the mosque, in our case we went to the Aqsa mosque. Praying is more beautiful during Eid because a lot of people will come from all over Palestine to pray in this mosque and most people are happy and wearing new clothes. After prayer we start saying “ALLAH AKBAR…” with each other, thousands in this case. After this spiritual experience we go home and those who are considered quite wealthy will sacrifice a goat or a sheep and distribute some of it to the poor. My family and I went to visit our sisters, aunts and of course the children, who in my eyes enjoy this holiday the most, and we gave them money (edya). The children play all day long and get money from their relatives so they can then buy a lot of new toys and spend Eid playing cops and robbers with their cousins and friends.

Eid is a time to remember your family especially the women if you had forgot about them, and also to remember the poor and those who are in need. It is also a time to remember Abraham and his faith and sacrifice. I think if they want to change the name of the holiday they should name it Holiday of Remembrance.


Helping people was always something I looked for, I tried several ways and when I heard about ICS I thought it would be a good opportunity. Besides, volunteering provides new experiences, friendships, and it develops both your character and community.

WCLAC was established to help women who are abused or are suffering due to domestic violence. They also aim to raise awareness among women of their rights. We are volunteering to help this centre in several areas such as: translating and proofreading documents and case studies, hosting workshops, developing proposals for fundraising and other tasks. We will be helping the main centre as well as some of its branches and grass-roots organisations supported by WCLAC.


Having volunteered at several Legal Aid centres back home in the UK, I was particularly inspired by the work that WCLAC does for Women in Palestine and the issues that they face on a daily basis. Since arriving, we have heard lots of inspirational stories from women living in the oPT speaking out about their horrific experiences in order to try and change attitudes towards gender-based violence.

Over the next few weeks we are planning to facilitate a number of outreach workshops for groups of men and women. The purpose of these workshops is to raise awareness of gender-based violence and to help break the silence on domestic abuse by encouraging people to speak more openly about it. This week we had planned to meet grassroots partner-organisations. Unfortunately, it has been harder to travel currently so we have not gone to visit yet. We have decided to use this time wisely by researching crowdfunding platforms in order to raise money for extra beds at WCLAC’s emergency protection shelter.

We’re excited to get stuck into the project and see how we can support the vital work of the centre.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

PFU: Getting started!

In the first week we had training where we got to meet all of the in-country volunteers, they’re great, we had lots of fun team activities and tasty food! The day after training was Eid al-Adha so we got to explore Ramallah a little bit and get to know all of the UK volunteers much better! We also got brought some traditional Eid sweets by the in-country volunteers, they were delicious! Ramallah itself is a great place to visit, there are lots of places to eat and lots of nice coffee shops, but we all loved the market the most, with its many fruit and vegetables stores, where you can see bread being made fresh,and smell the wonderful spices coming from the spice stores as you walk by, and pop into small stores to eat fresh knafeh and Baklava.

On our first Sunday off we went to visit Jericho with both the in-country and UK volunteers, it was very hot! We got to see the mount of temptation and talk to some really interesting locals and we brought drinks to cool us down from the heat.

Some of the volunteers enjoying a language lesson!
The first week of work at PFU has been really productive. Abbas is really enthusiastic about the projects that are currently running, he has a coffee meeting with us every morning to discuss the last day’s tasks and assign new ones. We are currently doing proposals for funding and policy briefing, these are really important to help further the good work that PFU do! All the volunteers are great! We love having conversations about culture and traditions. The in-country volunteers have been giving us language lessons at the end of each day which are really helpful!

We also enjoy guided learning sessions together where we discuss a variety of topics that are important to us. I’m really looking forwards to seeing the project develop over the next few months and expanding my skills!

In the first week, and as an in-country volunteer, we got the chance to meet all of the UK volunteers and all leaders of the teams. The training that included all of the in-country and the UK volunteers was exciting and fun. The UK volunteers are nice, we did a lot of activities to break the ice. In some activities we were able to understand a little about each other’s cultures, these activities in particular were very interesting. During the last day of training we got to know the volunteers and the project we will be working on better which is the PFU. I think our project is very interesting as we get to know more about the issues facing the agricultural sector in palestine,farmers’ rights and some of their stories through field visits. After Eid Al-Adha we met Abbas at the PFU, he gave us a general idea on what they do, about the agriculture in palestine, and what we will be doing during our placement.

The first week at the PFU was all about planning our work and finding what interests each and everyone of us to distribute the assignments between us. We work mostly in pairs or all together which is more fun and productive.

It has been harder to travel around currently, so we haven’t had the chance to go on field visits yet nor to the olive picking that we were planning to do, but hopefully we’ll be able to in the upcoming weeks.

The Arabic lessons we have at the end of every day are fun and we can see how excited and enthusiastic the UK volunteers are in terms of learning new words . Each day we teach the UK volunteers ten arabic words that they want to learn and they teach us some of the English words used around the UK with different accents.

Ruth and Sawsan

Thursday, August 13, 2015

PFU: Coming to a Close

When I first mentioned to my mother, just over a year ago, that I had a vague idea about spending my summer in the Palestinian Territories, she brushed it aside thinking that it was merely another of my ‘airy fairy ideas’. Fast forward a year to me packing my suitcase; to say that she was not keen on the idea is an understatement. Notions of euro-centricity, coupled with highly orientalist media reporting that portrays the Palestinian Territories as a barbaric, uncivilised place full of terrorists resulted in one teary mother convinced that I was going to be spending my summer in a war zone. 

The time that I have spent in the Palestinian Territories has, however, consistently proven that such notions are merely fictitious. For the most part, the people I have encountered have been friendly and welcoming, keen to provide insights into the culture and history of their home. Palestine is, however, of course a complicated place, even referring to where I have been living for the past 3 months as Palestine has been contentious at times. However, occupation, which is now synonymous with Palestine, doesn’t define it. That is not to dismiss its reality and impact as it permeates every aspect of life; from the high cost of living due to the dual taxes that Palestinian businesses encounter to the unfortunate reality of friends not being able to attend day trips due to travel restrictions. It is just to state that contrary to widespread news reporting, Palestine is so much more than simply checkpoints, roadblocks and intifada

Last week, myself and some of the other volunteers stumbled across a business 'expo' at the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah. Over 50 companies, cooperatives and communities came together to show case their products, brands and businesses. It was great to talk to people from across the Palestinian Territories and provided a refreshing change to the occupation discourse, which dominates conversation here. It further cemented that, to me, my favourite part of my placement has been when I have been engaging with Palestinians, whether at the marker or during my first week when myself and the in-country volunteers compared episodes of X Factor and Arab Idol as part of a ‘cultural exchange’. 

Thus it is rather bitter sweet to be writing this blog post, knowing that it will be one of the last from this cohort of ICS volunteers but at the same time I'm feeling a sense of excitement to be going home and seeing what lies ahead, especially considering the skills that ICS has enabled me to develop. It is hard to summarise my placement in only a few words but, if I had to, I would say insightful, productive, at times challenging and frustrating but overall a highly recommended experience. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WCLAC - A New Perspective Towards the World

Being a young woman in Palestine, I was set on achieving specific goals. One of them was to become independent, and the second one was to break free of all the strings that attach me to the wrong perception of a woman’s value in her community. Women are perceived as intellectually inferior in the OPTs or to be treated in a confined manner, kept isolated and allowed only to perform specific tasks as assigned by the male figure.

Through ICS, and the workshops we have held around Palestine, I have developed my interest in the problems facing women daily in my community.  I have read and listened to many stories of women during their periods of suffering. Their strength, resistance, and ability to survive violence against them is the result of the seed of a fighter that grows inside each Palestinian women, which is nourished by everything that they go through. Growing up powerless and subjugated to men means that women here have had to fight fiercely against common negative perceptions.

Their strength, which develops them from being powerless into strong hard working women, who earn their money with their bare hands, is what encouraged me to search deeper into the source of their strength. ICS assisted me in taking my first steps towards what I want as a woman. I want to open more doors for young women to find their light of hope and purify them from all the pain. My voluntary placement has had helped me not only focus on the issues I face individually, but opened my eyes to the issues faced by my gender as a whole. This has ignited the flame within me to fight for a change for women.

 During my journey with ICS I have made lots of Palestinian and British friends. We have done many things together, including iftar in Ramadan. I was really touched by how supportive and respectful some of the British volunteers were when some of them fasted with us, whilst many others did not eat or drink in front of us. My summer was fantastic and vastly different from previous ones as a result of them being here.  We went out together many times for lunch, ate ice cream from Baladna and went shopping.

Seeing Palestine through their British eyes was fascinating. They were really happy watching a bunch of kids dancing in the street, or getting excited seeing a wild cat walking by or how they could walk around valuing every stone of my home. From our conversations with our British counterparts I realized that Palestinians are strong human beings and I am proud to be Palestinian. We held on to every inch of land available, and sacrificed our lives in order to protect our soil. Throughout this project, I also came to see how precious and beautiful my land is. It is the land of Palestinians, the land of strong women and the land of fighters.

I would like to thank the ICS program for granting me such an enlightening experience and increasing my awareness of social problems within my community and how to tackle them. ICS has highlighted the significance and importance of bending down and offering a hand to the ones who need our help most.

Monday, August 3, 2015

PFU: Volunteering with ICS

By Barakat Azar

I am really glad to have joined the ICS program, which has given me an opportunity to get to know other cultures and learn new ways of life from different people. I have enjoyed this opportunity, especially because one of my interests is to know about other cultures and explore them in depth. I am not afraid of seeking the unknown and facing new adventures. Also, I know that the human experience is different and versatile, it is not based on one colour and all of those experiences enable the human being to explore the meaning of life. This is why I was encouraged to do my duties as a volunteer.

My specialty in the placement is with journalism and media. I have worked with the Palestinian Farmers’ Union on a number of things. One of those things was producing and editing a film in Arabic about the three million trees campaign. I also commenced working on the English version of the three million trees film. This campaign was implemented by the Union, which aims to cultivate tens of thousands of fruit trees and support the steadfastness of farmers, especially in areas threatened by confiscation by the Israeli occupation.

I also started working on the design of a newsletter for the Union. I used computer software to create the design from scratch. The newsletter will cover the past four months and will mention the implementation of many projects, courses and other events and activities carried out by the Union in partnership with several local and international institutions.

We also visited the Tent of Nations in Bethlehem, which is an organic educational farm. This was a wonderful story of steadfastness that enabled me to understand what is going on behind the scenes. It showed me how Palestinian farmers stand alone in the face of the Israeli occupation and how farmers try as much as possible to preserve the land of their ancestors. I found it interesting to learn that the Israeli security forces may still confiscate land, even if you have registered your land.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


We’re now well underway in our ICS placements here in Palestine – and what an incredibly sobering experience it’s been.

Upon mention of ‘Palestine’ you could be forgiven for instinctively conjuring images of unrelenting violence and misery inflicted on an indigenous people. Whilst this may often be the case, it’s not an entirely accurate assessment of life in the occupied territories. The Israeli occupation is seen rather than spoken about; its presence permeates ordinary life like the tear gas that lingers thick in the air, burning slowly as opposed to igniting furiously. So, despite this endless nightmare, Palestinians have adjusted and found normality in the madness; a beautiful nightmare.

The dream begins every dawn with the soothing melodic sounds of the call to prayer as the Ramadan fast begins against the backdrop of a stunning sunrise. It’s here the day starts for the majority of Palestinians, although fortunately for my colleagues and I, we’re afforded a few more hours before our placement at the Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU) begins. Having spent the first weeks acquainting ourselves with the organisation and its objectives, we now feel comfortable in engaging with the challenging tasks that lay ahead. In a concerted effort with our local Palestinian volunteers, we’ve undertaken various roles and projects that range from continuing the efforts of previous cohorts to pursuing uncharted territory in the field of agriculture, the beating-heart of the Palestinian economy. These range from social media management, providing a local and international platform seeking to highlight the plight of farmers, to drafting extensive funding applications to finance projects designed to alleviate the harsh conditions the occupation imposes on the agricultural sector. It can be as daunting as it sounds, and the obstacles – from bureaucracy to the physical impediments the occupation imposes – can often be disheartening. Yet, appreciating the significance of our efforts, and a yearning for some justice, keeps spirits high and minds focused.

Outside the office, there’s an infinite wealth of mesmerising beauty, history and culture that promises to occupy (no pun intended) the wanderer for days on end. I began this journey in the Old City of Jerusalem, a place that truly encapsulates the senses, and quite frankly defies all description.

A melting-pot of thousands of years of monotheistic civilisation stands proud and inviting. Bustling markets proffering the wildest fruits and artistic designs jostling for your attention, intoxicating scents of spices and perfume and cobbled pathways brimming with frenzy. But, perhaps most captivating of all: the simultaneous fusion of the call to prayer from the besieged al-Aqsa mosque, the sounds of synagogue klaxons reverberating across narrow tunnels and the ringing of the church bells, threatening to overwhelm. It’s blindingly clear to see why they call this the Promised Land.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WCLAC - One Month In

It has been more than a month since we’ve touched down in Palestine. The most astonishing thing so far has been seeing the unity that people display despite the obvious conflict. Meeting numerous Palestinians has altered my perspective completely from the image that the Western media portray. The common misconception of the Occupied Palestinian Territories being immersed in terrorism and violence is not at all what I’ve experienced. This is not suggesting that it does not transpire, I am merely stating that within many parts of the Occupied Territories most citizens live in peace and unity.

It is evident how nice people are, especially during Ramadan. We have been invited to countless iftars where we got to eat traditional Palestinian food, including Maklouba, Qatayef and of course Knafeh. As this is the first time for me being abroad without family during Ramadan, it was nice to break my fast with home food and company. During this holy month I was also extremely blessed to have the opportunity to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of Rock. Some Palestinians haven’t visited in over 20 years as their permits have been rejected countless times. This was so harrowing to hear, especially as I know how important it is to some Muslims to pray in the compound.

The Occupation does not only affect the rights of Muslims and Christians to pray, but also women in general, and this is combined with cultural idiosyncrasies of Palestine. Women face constant discrimination and working in WCLAC has made me realise how difficult it can be to live in a society where men are seen to be the ‘provider’. When visiting Tubas, we were able to talk to a social worker and lawyer who told us stories of women, as well as children, who were abused inside and outside of the home. Desolate feelings arose when listening to these stories, as not only does the Occupation play a major role in Palestinian lives, but internal community factors also have a substantial impact.

Since our arrival we have visited various places in the West Bank. Despite the challenges faced by Palestinians, their positive attitude reinforces their peaceful approach to life. We have had an ample amount of fun, visiting places including the Dead Sea, Akka and Haifa, which was purely picturesque. It was mesmerising seeing the views of the Ottomon ruins, the crystal clear beaches and the fruit filled souks (markets).  

We’ve still got a month left and I’m already dreading the thought of leaving. The people here have constantly said “Palestine is your second home” and I’ve now grown to believe it.