Alumni Spotlight: Alicia


Alicia, 25 years, studied at universities both in Holland and the Middle East (and plans to continue learning her whole live). She currently is working on a research project concerned with democracy promotion in the Middle East which allows her to do what she loves most: traveling to the Arab World.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Karama Organization in Palestine?

After my third year in university, studying international development, I started to feel highly uncomfortable with my empty passport pages. Never had I set foot in a country outside Europe, and though there are plenty of pretty places there I felt it was time for me to explore the wider world. The magic sound of the mosque, the beautiful colored mosaic, the vibrant markets, all this came to mind while thinking about the Middle East, so the idea arose to trek from Turkey to Palestine in the summer holiday with a friend. This plan did not work out for my part so I started looking for a better alternative.

Volunteering came to my mind quickly, as it seemed a good, safe way to get into a community and establish contacts more easily in a new country. My personal fascination for the land of Palestine led me to specifically look there and browsing online brought me to Karama Organization. It was then already close before the summer holidays, so nobody, not even my parents had any time to come up with objections; I basically just booked my flights and left.

A very bumpy entrance to Palestine introduced me immediately to the vague but heavy concept of “occupation”. And this fact continued to be an important learning point during my stay. As far as preparation concerned, I knew no Arabic and my knowledge of the local situation was limited. Of course, I did some reading before departure, but I focused more on preparing for the tasks I planned to be part of, in the community center of Karama Organization with the refugee children of Deheishe.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Once I arrived in the center, I started to participate in summer camps Karama undertakes during the summer holidays. The refugee camp came into being after the war in 1948, but thousands of children still live in the crowded area. Even though there is negativity and poverty all around them, the Karama Center still welcomes as many kids as space allows.

I spent many hours every day playing games with a group of around 12 kids. Sometimes, we played large games outside with more than 50 kids! Other activities were English or other supportive lessons, computer workshops, story-writing, music time, photography sessions, drama or dancing workshops, creative activities, and many sports and games.

Outside the community center, Karama holds activities in the wider society. As an international volunteer, I was not really involved in this but I noticed this also took a lot of dedication from the staff.

What made this experience unique and special?

What I especially remember from these weeks, were the trips (called 'richla' in Arabic) we made together. All the children would be calling “richla, richla!” the day before, and I, as a volunteer, danced along, no idea what I was saying. Well, the next day I knew.. everybody got up early, lined up in neat lines in the center and got ready to depart. Loud singing and clapping decorated the long bus drive, and when we finally arrived at the swimming pool or entertainment park we all had a great time together! I was all the time surprised by the responsible, older teenagers that often helped out in the center and during these trips. Basically, a lot of them grew up in this center, developed there into responsible young adults and were completely trusted by the local staff. I was impressed by their energy, responsibility, and warmth towards all the children. For me, they were the ultimate proof that Karama is doing something good there.

Children receive positive attention, affection and some form of guidance in this center. In combination with developing their practical skills through lessons and activities, they can become positive young adults that carry themselves with proud and self-respect and have a positive outlook on life. I think it was great to be part of this as a volunteer, and despite the difficulties, I always kept this in mind. Sometimes it was difficult to come up with new ideas for example, but knowing I could be a tiny part of the children's development made me motivated to bring a positive contribution. Though I always say that I will remember these kids way more than they will ever remember me, I still know I have contributed with my energy, initiative and in a material way to their well-being. It also helped that we as volunteers had lots of inspiring talks with the local staff, which pushed us even more to make the most of our days there.

How has this experience impacted your future?

I think I got a very rare insight in the hearts of Palestinians and I am very thankful for that. With the people at Karama and in Palestine, I noticed an unbreakable will to live and to live in dignity. I never experienced people who would stand for their own rights in such a firm manner. But here they have to, otherwise, these rights will be completely forgotten.

It taught me lessons you can only experience yourself, as the lesson is I can be the only one to stand up for myself, my rights and my beliefs. The seemingly endless energy and endurance of the Palestinian people in their daily fight to live inspires me greatly to live a thankful and positive life. I can only encourage everybody to go and meet these people!