I spent 3 months volunteering in Palestine with the Excellence Center this past winter/spring. I participated in the Volunteer to Write about Palestine program and the Volunteer to Teach English program.
Over the course of the 3 months I spent in Hebron, I met amazing people both within the Excellence Center and outside. When entering the Center as a volunteer, intern, or Arabic students, you are truly entering into a family. The dynamic of the Center is nothing short of communal. The staff members are lively, exciting, and fun people to be around. The warm work environment makes for enjoyable days spent volunteering at the Center as well. Also, the constant coming and going of internationals means that I had the opportunity to meet many people from all around the world. Many of whom I have stayed in touch with! I truly loved meeting everyone who walked through the door - both internationals, local Palestinian students and, of course, the staff members.
Marwa was my personal Arabic teacher and I shared so many fond memories with her during my time learning Arabic and being at the Excellence Center. She quickly became a great friend to me. I came to Palestine knowing the basics of fusha, but had no knowledge of the Palestinian dialect. My Arabic language skills improved slowly but surely during my time at the Excellence Center. My motivation to come to Palestine was fueled by a desire to learn Arabic and I found that there was no faster way to do so than through immersion.
In addition to being immersed in the Arabic language, I enjoyed being immersed in Palestinian culture. I attended many joyful events, such as weddings and birthday celebrations, during my time in Hebron. I loved getting the change to experience everyday life in Palestine. As much as I thought I would travel to various cities during my 3 months in Palestine, I hardly left Hebron because I had developed such great friendships within the city. Apart from two trips to Bethlehem and a trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I spent most of my days in Hebron and most of my weekends with my host family. This was also my second trip to Palestine, so that is why I went on fewer trips to other cities and spent more time settled in Hebron. I grew very attached to the host family I was placed in and am thankful for the way they welcomed me in with open arms. I truly felt a part of the family and when I come back to Palestine, which I hope happens sooner rather than later, I would not want to live with anyone else. From my host family to the staff members at the Excellence Center, I felt as though I built lifelong friendships in my short 3 months there. The people are certainly my favorite thing about Palestine (the food, certainly being the runner-up).
This is my second time to Palestine and during both of my trips the thought of danger had never crossed my mind. I never felt scared or threatened in Palestine, even when walking alone around the city. If the fear of danger and violence is a worry for any prospective volunteers I hope you listen to the experiences of past volunteers when we say that Palestine is a very safe place to visit.
Leaving Palestine meant many hard goodbyes for me, but I pray that those goodbyes were only see you later's. I cannot wait to return and visit my host family, my lovely Arabic teacher, and the friends I made while at the Excellence Center. I felt supported during the entirety of my trip and cannot say enough great things about the Center!
My one piece of advice: If you are on the fence about volunteering with the Excellence Center, do it! I treasure the time I spent in the West Bank and am expecting to be back soon.