I left to Palestine like i am: open minded and willing to experience the conflict in everyday life. I wanted to break my prejudices that I believed we all have and spread the information when I come home. I felt and still feel that getting know different cultures and ways of living would make this world a better place... Unfortunately work experience at Karama was not right place for this kind of thing.
After a year has passed Im starting to get clear picture of my time with Karama. This picture is not bright and sunny, more like full of bad memories and experiences. I have not told about them to so many people so far, even to my family, but now I would like to share my story to people who may consider Karama as place to volunteer. Just to make them see different point of view to this organization after reading all those superpositive reviews that it has gotten earlier.
It's sad that I have to say so, because Karama is very important place for the kids in Deheishe and they really have a big need for volunteers. Karama has all the potention to be the greatest volunteer program, but the lack of management skills and all rules that are unrespecting -i would say- humanrighs, ruins this program totally.
I had planed to stay in Deheishe for 3 months, even I was ready to stay longer if I felt that I liked it there. Well, I did not and quit after two months. This two monts was full of anxiety, fear and stress. What were the things that made me feel like this?
First of all the controlling that the manager wanted to spead among the volunteers by fear. I was not allowed to talk to other volunteers, eather any visitors. Just to show happy face that everything is ok and discuss about the work. The managers opinion was that "You don't understand our culture and will talk and turn things around in your western heads and this is bad for the program". If I did talk with someone else than him I got shouted at his office. He did not want us to share our bad vibes about the Karama as i would united us too much against him.
This led to the situation that you were so afraid to talk to anyone about your true feelings. Have you heard about "divide and conquer"? This was purely it.
Contolling continued outside the workinghours as well. We were not allowed to spend time with other volunteers in the eavning or go enywhere else than home. We could not get any days off together, I had to spend them by myself. What would you do alone? Where would you go? It was forbidden to go anywhere else than Bethlehem alone, or even with a friend.
You needed allways to inform the manager if you wanted to go somewhere and he gave you final permission. This ment you never knew if you can put your plans in to act or not. It was normal that days off were cancelled in the eavning day before. You never knew if his promeses were about to be happen or break again.
So basically, what you saw about Palestine was the refugee camp and a little piece of Bethlehem. I was lucky to get some palestanian friends outside the camp that I got known through a close friend, by accident. They wanted to show me around Bethlehem area and spend time together. Even they were so sorry and shocked for me that I was captivated in Deheishe and saw nothing more. Nevertheless i was not allowed to spend time with them eather because "We western can not recognize who are bad and who are good people and finally we will get us all, ourselves, the organization and the hostfamily, into a big trouple". I did not mind this at first, my family was nice and I liked living with them. In the end i started to feel like a bird in a cage. Bird that was being watched all the time. It felt wrong and uncounfortable.
And btw... I still keep touch with these lovely palestanian friends and they have helped me alot to get over the Karama experience. So that is how bad people they are.
But lets continue about my experiences...
Well... When something went wrong it was allways the volunteers fault. Even when two kids broke in to the volunteers office and stole money from me it was my fault: Our activities were not interesting enought to keep the kids downstairs to avoid them to brake in to the office and steal from us. Can you imagine this? The manager promesed to pay the money (100nis) back to me but he never did.
About the trips they are talking about... Yes, they arranged. Only Few. I asked them for many times but did get only two that were in a 2 following days, during one weekend. This was after working over 1 month at Karama without any days off. Trip happened during the free days (so if they organized a trip, it was your day off) and then when it was ok to the manager or his brother who organized the trips. It was normal that suddenly in the evening the manager came to inform "You will go for a trip tomorrow". So they did not respect the fact that the volunteer could have some other plans, his/her own life to take care of, they wanted to be in control in everything.
Reason for this was also "security", covered with the explanations that "we care about your security", "You westerns always get in to the troubles so if you want to visit other cities, we'll arrange it for you so it will be safe".
All my bad experiences leads to bad management at Karama. That's why my number one tip for the novice volunteer is: Find a place where the management is not only in one mans/womans hands but you have bigger organization behind you. Then ideas can be shared and no-one dictates the rules too easily. At the Karama the managers procedure was: "It's my way or the high way".
Also it was confusing you never knew his mood and this was made the athmospere bad. Sometimes he could be the nicest and caring person and at times wicked and agressive. It is crazy how you get use to feel scared and unconfortable. At least this is what I did while working in Karama. Ofcourse this will affect on your mood sooner or later. I remember how my family kept asking me why I was all the time so tired at home. Well, there you have the reason: Working at Karama was so burdening menthally that I lost my joy of working complitely. I hated this because I really liked working with the kids and I felt that I could have so much to give to them! I have education from the field of pedagogy and special education but because I felt so miserable, stressed and frustrated, my head just did not work. I lost my imagination and willingness to work with karama kids. It is unfair that the kids need to suffer for the bad management.
One, but the least thing that made me sad was all that money that I lost. I was robbed two times, ones at Karama (that i told you about allready), ones someone broke in to our house while we were away and stole nothing more but my money (??!!). And this was quite a big amount... Together I lost 900 Nis, so around 200€. In the both cases I was promesed that Karama will pay the money back but it never did. Also I paid my accormidation for 3 monts at ones when I arrived. When I quited after 2 months I never was offered to get my money back eather. At that time I was too tired and just wanted to get out of Deheishe that I did not care anything else. But what I have heard from other volunteers, they have had to start a real fight and argue with the manager to get their money back. Later I have felt bad for it... I had worked so hard to earn the money for making this volunteer trip. I am not the kind of person who cares too much about the money but when feeling like cheated it makes you think... This kind of thinking was also washed away from your head with brainwashing. We were all the time told how the western people cares only about the money, unlike the palestinians who are much more poor than us. After hearing this, would you feel counfortable to go and ask your money back and imprint yourself aa a "rich and selfish westener"?
This I feel was the most unfair: The quilt that I was forced to feel as an western. They explained all the bad treatments with the idea: "You don't understand, you're a western. You don't know anything about hard life. Go live your easy western life if you can not tolerate the palestanian way of living!". This was the way to make volunteer to feel bad if he/she complained f.ex. about the controlling rules. Also working in Karama made you feel like you, as an western, are the one who always screws up everything, and this is why they have to tight the rules and treat like they do. I often heard stories like "We used to let volunteers go and spend their free time like they wanted, but then this one girl came home drunk and we stopped it" . So if ex-volunteers had made mistakes, it was your fault also and you needed to suffer for it. It was not enough if they told the volunteer that "don't do this, it is not acceptable here in our society". Im pretty sure that all the people who are willing to go to the place like Palestine are respectfull and have a skill to use their common sense.
After I got distance to Karama and time passed I started to figure out that my function was just bring money (which was quite a lot compared to my living costs -as in refugee camps people have no living costs like water or electricity) to the organization and work work and work. For free. I did not feel that my work, or me as a human being, was respected.
The best thing during my time in Deheishe and in Karama was my family. They were extra nice and warm people and I felt welcomed! This is why I feel bad when i heard that not all the money that i paid for the accormodation went to my family. I would really want to support their family life as they were so nice to my when at the same time they were struggling a lot.
Also I was lucky to meet other locals outside deheishe as well. After finished at Karama they helped me to get some nice memories and experiences out of Palestine. I am forever thankfull for these loving, helping and caring friends I got! They made me even return to Palestine and made it special place for me. :)
Without meeting them i wouldn't have any nice information to share about Palestine. Now I can say that Palestine is amazing place and most palestinians are kind and big hearted people who respect you. I would absolutely suggest everybody to go visit Palestine! Just avoid Karama organization.