Where to begin? I arrived in Bethlehem nearly six days ago, and yet it feels like I’ve been here for much, much longer. But I mean that in a positive way. I feel so different already from the girl who landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday morning, jet lagged, hair unkempt, face oily, feet swollen. I took a sherut from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem where I met my program director’s son, Tarek, at a partner organization of Wi’am. From there, we passed through one of the three checkpoints in the separation barrier (more on this subject in posts to come) and finally, after what felt like days of travel, I was in Bethlehem.
The following five and a half days (it is only 1 PM here today, on my sixth day!) have been comprised mainly of taking in information about the culture, about Wi’am and my roles there, of learning some essential Arabic phrases (“Shukran” meaning “Thank you” and “Kahweh” meaning “coffee” are my two go-to’s thus far), and beginning to hear from others about how the conflict affects their lives.
My program director and his family have welcomed me into their home and their family. I live downstairs from them, but I’m in their home every day. We’ve made meals together and played board games. They’ve shown me around town, including the best grocery stores and restaurants. They have also introduced me to locals in the community. I’m amazed at how quickly they have become like family to me.
My first day at Wi’am was only this past Monday, so I am still getting into the swing of things and finding exactly where I fit in the organization. Unfortunately, the Summer Camp I was going to help with ended the Friday before I arrived. The kids now come to Wi’am on Friday’s only. That means I will work in other areas of the center during the other weekdays. My first day with the kids will be this Friday!
One of the first big projects I am involved in is the set-up of the Youth Garden. We have made five raised beds where we will help the kids plant vegetables. Our hope is that the garden will encourage an appreciation for the environment and healthful eating. The benefits of this garden are also psychological, as we hope that by working in the garden, the children will feel both responsible for and proud of something they have created and helped sustain, leading to boosts in both self-esteem and autonomy.
Another initial project of mine is to create a new welcome video showcasing some of Wi’am’s programs for their website and Facebook profile. I’m so glad I can put my skills in video editing, developed during my time at my arts high school, Nashville School of the Arts, to use at Wi’am!
That is all for now. I have only been here for five (and a half!) days so it isn’t much. I’m sure by this time next week I will have more to say about my work and my life in Bethlehem.