“The WAYers were great in their interaction and contribution. This encourages us to seize boundless opportunities in order to achieve greater participation and communication in the future.”
This is how Jawdat Shawwa, head of the Youth Engagement Task Force and member of the Welfare Association’s (WA) Board of Trustees, expressed his delight upon the conclusion of events in the Seeds of Giving program organized by WAY in Beirut between 18-23 December 2009.
The 6-day program consisted of a number of activities including visits to refugee camps and volunteering in a number of WA projects implemented by Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation (GKCF), as well as a series of workshops, recreational, artistic and cultural activities.
From all around the world to Beirut to be close to Palestine
On December 18th, sixteen young Palestinians arrived in Beirut to participate in the activities of the WAY program. They arrived from different parts of the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Kuwait and Jordan.
It was not difficult to capture the look of joy and anticipation in their faces. It was sincere and heartfelt. For years they had lived amid history being told, recited, read, and seen to learn about their homeland – Palestine.
“I learned about my country's history, which I did not know before. This experience has inspired me to start working.”
Ahmad ElGendy, 19 years
A Journey to another World-- Refugee Camps
The tour of the refugee camps left a lasting impression on the youth. Not surprisingly, they were fascinated by their trip to Burj Al-Barajneh and Mar Elias camps. All participants considered the visit as one of the most profound events they had experienced during their six day program.
The youth were so touched and expressed their emotions in writing. Some of them wanted to use every means possible to publicize the situation of refugees; others looked forward to future visits to the camps; while several others demanded the rehabilitation of a football field in one of the camps; and others genuinely lived through the sorrows and the joys retold by the children of the camps.
Laila Qaddumi, 15 years
Each and every young adult expressed the desire to do something on the ground in order to contribute to improving the painful scene. And they were quick to turn those desires into actions. During their visit to a kindergarten run by GKCF -which implements a number of important projects with WA support- the youth volunteered to teach English and computer skills to KG children. They played with the children and painted their faces with colors; as if with their bare hands they were painting a better reality for these children.
The WAYers’ curiosity did not have an end, their faces continually asked the same two, important questions: "What can we do?" and "What do they need?" The questions continued to ring in their minds with the desire to learn more. They wanted to be active agents of change and a reliable witness to a reality they believed did not reach the minimum standards of human justice.
“This visit has opened my eyes to the difference between the lively environment where I live and how my fellow people live in another part of the world. I really hope I can help in any way, and when I grow older I will do all that I can.”
Noor Kalouti, 16 years
Palestinian refugee camps were not only visited by 16 young Palestinians who support a cause, but by believers that it is their own cause; a cause with a wider and more important human dimension because it reflected the right to a decent life, where humans can enjoy the most basic of rights, namely access to education, health and work. They wholeheartedly believed in the need to exert all efforts possible in support of this right: a decent life.
All the youth expressed their admiration of WA efforts to alleviate hard conditions through projects that can have an impact. It was admirable how keen they were to express their opinions about these projects. As such, they were given the opportunity to review three WA project proposals, examining their rationale, objectives and feasibility. Moreover, fueled by their desire to help and make a change, the WAYers contributed $500 each to one of the three projects.
“I loved the experience and I'm a prouder Palestinian now! I learned more about my history and culture. Although my dream of visiting Jerusalem has not been realized yet, I hope this is achieved through the WAY program.
Ramzi Barakat, 17 years
Supporting Palestine through the Arts
In the studio of the talented Lebanese artist Ziad Rahbani, and as part of their visit program, participants learned about an important part of this artist’s world; his love of Palestine, and how he defended its cause using his delicate weapon: art. Furthermore, and because most of these young people have musical talent, they did not miss the opportunity to experience playing Ziad Rahbani‘s piano and other musical instruments that were there.
“This is my most useful and productive experience about Palestine.”
Sami Al-Quqa, 15 years
The young group then moved to the world of visual arts to watch the award-winning documentary “Dreams of Exile” skillfully directed by Mai Masri. They met with the director in person and listened to her talking about the film. She took them through the process, whereby images were brought to life and probed in depth.
Participants found that this film, where the dream of return mixes with the dream to change the deplorable situation, was yet another rich experience for them, opening the doors for discussion, questions and comments. This experience allowed each of them to express their own visions, feelings and aspirations.
Presentations, workshops, and Palestinian Dabkeh
Part of the six day program was a day for presentations and discussions, whereby WAYers learnt more about Palestine and WA. Lulwa Safarini, the director of Research and Quality Assurance of Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada –YSEC, who was involved as a volunteer, facilitated an interactive workshop on philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, highlighting participants’ passion to giving.
Nada Al-Nashif, member of WA Board of Trustees, contributed to this knowledge through a visual presentation highlighting WA mission, objectives, achievements and active role in supporting the Palestinian civil society.
Jwana Harfoush, WAY program manager gave a short session about the benefits of volunteering. Most of the participants had his/her own inspiring volunteering stories to share. Yasmine Al-Alami, a volunteer in the Youth Engagement Task Force made a rich presentation on the Palestinian history and culture.
“Words alone cannot express my admiration for the work you are doing. How great it is to see the Palestinian spirit surviving. I had the honor to spend a full day with Palestinian children.”
Omar Kalouti, 18 years
During her meeting with the WAYers, Annie Kanafani, the Founder and Director of GKCF, was keen to answer all their questions. She expressed delight to sense their dedicated desire to actively participate in the voluntary work that has been included in the program.
“For the first time, I am living the Palestinian cause instead of just reading about it.”
Tatiana Basatne, 19 years
“It was my first visit to a refugee camp. I felt sad for the situation of people there and tried to make them feel happy. I will try to do more the next time because they need a lot.”
Ian Kuttab, 15 years
Everybody wanted to get out of all the serious discussions and debate and get into a lighter side of the culture: Palestinian folk dance (Dabkeh). The participants walked to the City Theater where they met with youth from Beit al Sumoud and their Dabkeh instructor. They had another surprise awaiting them: traditional Palestinian costume specially made for each one of them. After the girls wore their Thobe and the boys their Ombaz, they went on stage to learn the steps of Palestinian Dabkeh.
Two Generations - One Jasmine Necklace
Jasmine has always been a symbol of love and loyalty and a means to express a holy bond… This is how the atmosphere can be described during the Palestinian flavored days spent in Beirut. Bringing together two generations of Palestinians in the Diaspora was like weaving a Jasmine Necklace.
“It was a wonderful experience where I enjoyed being with kids. Now I have an insight into the lifestyle of the Palestinian refugees and a new outlook into how to help them…”
Fawaz Shawa, 16 years
Some WAYers' parents were there. The faces of the older generation were trying to read the faces of a young generation still searching for its way in life; each following the face of the other with passion, as if they were reading a story of events yet to come.
These two generations lived the experience as it should be lived. Nabil Qaddumi the Chairman of WA Board of Trustees was thrilled when he met and welcomed them. At a later time, he was joined by Jawdat Shawwa and Nora Shawwa, when they all rolled up their sleeves and tried to practice some culinary arts with the rest of the group in preparing the Palestinian dish Musakhan.
Hopes and aspirations
Participants unanimously agreed that the visit was a key motive for their desire to do more to serve the Palestinians. They believed that spreading the WA message and introducing the WAY program will provide an opportunity to involve more young people in its activities. They looked forward to organizing a visit to Palestine in the near future, and to contributing to different volunteer activities.
Dr. Atalla Kuttab, WA General Director, expressed gratitude to all of those who contributed to making this program a success, stressing full belief that the presence of such a group of young people will support WA’s sustainability.
“Now, I feel comfort seeing that the future of Palestinian development will be in safe hands,” he said. “We will proceed in this direction… and will provide support to WAY in order to become a leader in recruiting, retaining and encouraging new efforts. We are looking forward to having the next trip to Palestine … and I am sure it will be an exceptional one!”
“I learned a lot from this experience and about the Palestinian people who are most affected by the conflict…”
Ghada Beidas, 19 years
With support from all its members and efforts from the Youth Engagement Task Force that includes some of them, WA worked on creating a platform for exchange between young people from Arab and Palestinian origins in order to channel their attention towards assisting the Palestinian people.
As a first step, it was agreed to hold an activity to promote youth knowledge on issues related to the Palestinian cause, present detailed information on the situation of Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon, and introduce WA programs and efforts in serving the Palestinian civil society.
“It was an exceptional experience, where I learned more about the culture and history of Palestine and discovered ways to help Palestinian children.”
Yusra Shawwa, 15 years
*WAY is an abbreviation of Welfare Association for Youth, which proved to be a strong expression of the objectives of this program. There has to be a “way” to bring the Palestinian youth to a closer and more conscious vision of their homeland. A ‘way” has to be found to absorb and nourish their enthusiasm in order to materialize in practice. The first group of WAYers in this pioneering program included: Ahmad El-Gendy, Osama Al-Quqa, Basil Jayousi, Tatiana Basatne, Ramzi Barakat, Zeina Fakhriddin, Omar Kalouti, Ghada Beidas, Sami Al-Quqa, Fawaz Shawwa, Laila Qaddumi, Nadine Khouri, Noor Kalouti, Yara Sifri, Ian Kuttab, and Yusra Shawwa. “Seeds of Giving” in Beirut was just the beginning!
“Working with the kids in the refugee camps for one week was my first experience, but definitely will not be the last.. I acquired a body of information that exceeds all what I have learned throughout the 18 years of my school life.”
Osama Al-Quqa, 18 years
* Mr. Riad Kamal has thankfully contributed $65 thousand to developing the WAY concept. "The Seeds of Giving- Beirut 2009" was fully funded by the participants.