Lucky to be at Aida
I've been lucky enough to volunteer in the Aida Refugee Camp with the Aida Youth Club. I say "lucky" for a very specific reason. When me and my fellow volunteer arrived at the camp this past Monday, we noticed how run down the camp is. We arrived and the director of the center, Kareem, gave us the presentation he gives most of his visitors. He told us the history behind the 1948 Nakba, when and how the camp was established and developed from tents to solid structures, and the hardships faced by the people in the camp. The last point wasn't fully grasped until he took us on a shortened walking tour of the camp. What we saw was stunning.
We were shown a large building that had looked fairly new, but nonetheless had its windows barred. He told us that it used to be a lumber processing facility that employed many men in the camp. The reason it had closed was because it was surrounded by the separation barrier. He walked us toward a building and on the way, showed us walls riddled with bullet holes from the 2nd Intifada. Apparently, Aida was a flashpoint during that uprising. We climbed to the top of one home and from the roof, you could see how uniquely unfortunate that place is. The separation barrier surrounds much of the camp and completely blocks it on the north and east sides. There is a military base in the east because of its proximity to Rachel's Tomb, a holy site for Jews and Muslims alike. We saw an UNRWA school for girls that had it's windows sealed shut with metal shutters for fear of Israeli gunfire from the towers along the barrier. From the roof you could also see what was behind the wall. It was another world. Immediately beside the barrier is a grove of olive trees, left unharvested since before the wall's construction, and further on a hill, you see the incredibly illegal and artificially beautiful Israeli settlement of Gilo. The dichotomy is overwhelming.
Afterwards, Kareem took us back into his office and asked us how we felt about what we had seen and about our volunteer placement. I thought for a moment and told him that I was happy. This is truly a place where I feel as though my presence can make a positive difference. It is a place where I can work with the youth and teach them valuable skills and where I can use some of my (limited) computer skills to help the administrative branch of the youth center. I can actually do some good.
I hope someday after my law education is done, that I can get to work on a good cause. This is excellent preparation for the kind of humanitarian work I would hope to do. In that sense, I am extremely lucky.