While I highly suggest moving to Palestine and experiencing day to day life, culture, amazing food, and the politics of the occupation. Do so by working for a more respectable certified NGO than Teach For Palestine/Pioneers.
Upon arriving to the program in August I quickly learned that things were not as they seemed through the Skype interview and information I was given about the program prior to coming. For me this was a big deal because I made some very big changes and moved my life to Palestine only to discover:
1. We were promised to be paid one amount and then found out we would have to settle for a significantly lower pay, this varied based on your responsibilities. There was a very strained sense of trust after discovering that we were told one thing and given another.
2. Our supervisors told us that we would have freedom over our lesson plans prior to coming, then demanded they be in control of them at all times. They demanded that we turn them into them every week for approval. Every single second of our time spent working had to be approved. We would get reprimanded (by this I mean verbally assaulted and put down by our supervisors) if we didn't turn them in or if they didn’t meet their “standards” every Thursday evening. Our supervisors held themselves to a much different standard. They could take all the time in the world getting them back to us and we weren't allowed to use them in our Sunday class until they were reviewed, this issue caused much stress and frustration.
3. We don't get weekends. We get paid very little and are expected to work between 60 and 80 hours a week. Even when we had finished all of our lessons and have them submitted before the weekend, our supervisors always find something else for us to do to fill up the weekend time. Either our lesson plans weren’t good enough for them and we had to change them, we had to come into a mandatory Saturday meeting, we were expected to reorganize our classrooms even after we had arranged them the way we wanted. If we did happen to find a way to take some time to ourselves, we were quickly reminded that the supervising staff doesn’t have time for weekends so neither should we.
4. We would be working more than 60 hours a week if we are at Pioneers and TFP. We had to arrive at 7 to the school every morning, 6:45 if they give you morning duty. Then didn’t finish until 5 or 6 in the evening. Only then to have a ton of work that’s needs to be done after the work day was finished. I was working 12-14 hour days, I had 3 classes at Pioneers, then 3 classes in Balata camp after I left Pioneers. I was also expected to run other workshops visit kids homes in the camp after I left work, and come into the school after hours to work on a mural that I was expected to complete on my own.
5. We were expected to stay in the space of their choosing. This could be coed, this could be living with your supervisors, this could mean living in a village far away and being expected to pay for transportation on your own everyday. I was paying between 150 and 200 shekels a month on transportation just to and from work, none of that was covered by TFP. After I asked to come up with a solution to this expense my supervisor, who is a single male, demanded that I move in with him in his apartment. The way he broke the news to me after I asked him for a solution to the huge cost of transportation was as follows in a very angry tone “you have to move in with me or you can leave.” Meaning I had to either move in with him or quit my job.
6. The supervisors that we were working under are terrible communicators and managers. I have never seen such unprofessional management in my life. During the course of 2.5 months I worked there I endured and other co workers endured insults and threats (ex. none of you are important to this job at all, I could fire you and there would be a line of others waiting to work for us. So you better do a good job or you should be thankful that I hired you to work here at all…..this was told to us when we expressed frustration from our intense schedules ) Nothing is ever a discussion with them, if you have a problem or if you ask a question you are treated like an incompetent individual, while not really ever getting an answer. For example, I got the smallest room in the new building ( a room that could fit comfortably 10 kids with desks and still allow me to walk around and help them work) I was expected to fit 20 students in this room. I asked for advice on how to arrange the desks, how it would work, maybe a new room would be better. I went for advice and I received insults and put-downs. How could I even think to ask for help? I must be an incompetent teacher! There was absolutely no support from the administrators.
They would also control who we were allowed to spend time with. We were not allowed to make Palestinian friends, we were told that every other NGO in Nablus was incompetent and spending time with people from other organizations was frowned upon. Also current employees have not been allowed to be around those of us who quit our jobs. This level of control was unbearable.
7. They have ridiculous policies in their contract. When asked to sign the contract we were told ( I was never asked to sign the contract, this is speaking from other coworkers experiences) that it really doesn’t mean anything; that it’s just a formality for them to get you a year long visa from Israel. What they are really doing is masking the fact that the contract they want you to sign says things like, You are not allowed to work anywhere in the Palestine if you leave the job and they can sue you $700 if you quit without giving notice (and even if you do give notice they will make it seem like you didn’t by lying about the circumstances and then demanding that you owe them money, this happened to me and one other staff member who left the job) No one can tell you where you can and can’t work.
In the 2.5 months I worked there I was miserable. I was working all the time, being treated like my hard work meant nothing, was watching other coworkers being treated the same way, was being put down by the administrators, being criticized in front of other co workers and students (something they do a lot of with everyone). I loved living in Nablus, I loved my co-workers they are all wonderful people and very supportive many of which I am still friends. I just couldn’t take the stress and couldn’t take dealing with the management. I was being forced to move in with my boss and when I was given the ultimatum and told how unimportant I was, I made the decision to leave my job. I was told that I would be receiving my pay after I left Nablus (I am still owed 800 shekels, $215) I left Nablus for another job in Palestine and after many email attempts to get the check from my employer I was told that I would not be getting paid because I broke the agreement of the contract, the one I never signed, by staying in Palestine and working for another NGO. I was told that I was not allowed to work anywhere in Palestine.
Since August, nine of the staff members have left this job because of management issues. Many of us are still owed money and have yet to receive it.
I hate to have such a negative review of this job but I must say what happened during working there. I don’t think anyone should ever endure what we went through while working for this organization. While I had many amazing experiences, met wonderful people, and learned a huge amount from this time, I would suggest finding another organization to work with if you want to move to Palestine.
Nothing is ever good enough there and you will never find yourself receiving any kind of approval for the hard work you will put into the program. The only reason most of us stayed for as long as we did was because the kids in our programs were amazing. It was very difficult leaving our job knowing that we would be leaving them too.
There are many other NGOs in Palestine with great reputations and with great management. This program is an amazing way to reach kids in Nablus and the surrounding camps and villages, it’s too bad that the management is so unprofessional. This organization would be much better with a brand new management team.
Palestine is a beautiful country, the people are warm, the food is delicious, the environment is safe. Living here is a great chance to see the effects of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people and see how warm and kind the Palestinian people are. I have been living here for the past 7 months and have since found another job in the west bank that I love. I feel very safe here, I have met some very wonderful Palestinians and made great friends. Moving to Palestine was the best thing I ever did, despite the short time I spent with TFP. I would recommend visiting Palestine to anyone, just find another NGO or program to work with.