To most of the participants in the Zyara program, this was their first trip to Palestine. Their prior knowledge was limited to what they had read or heard about in the media, where Palestine is usually portrayed only as a war zone. Zyara participants were given the opportunity to witness the different restrictions that limit the movement of Palestinians and affect every aspect of their life through the combinations of different checkpoints, the separation wall, refugee camps, and illegal settlements. The trip provided the participants with the opportunity to live Palestine and to experience its beautiful cultural heritage, including visiting key historical and religious sites and tasting local traditional food.
Youssef Salhi, a professor of Arabic at Georgia Southern University, and of Moroccan origin, has always been a huge fan of Mahmoud Darwish’s work and has included many of the poet’s works in his lectures. During his visit to Palestine, Youssef had the opportunity to visit the Mahmoud Darwish Museum and learn more about the poet’s life and work, inspiring him to dedicate a whole class to Darwish’s writings in the upcoming semester.
Kris Koenig, a filmmaker from California, has been working on a project entitled “Sticks and Stones: Adolescent PTSD and the Middle East Conflict”. Before Kris’s trip to Palestine, the idea of the film was to give a voice to the children who have lost their childhoods to trauma and violence, and to show the medical and psychological impacts of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) on the human body. Zyara introduced Kris to Accountability for Violence Against Children (AVAC), an organization which sheds light on the violations that cause children and their families in Palestine much suffering. The program provides psychotherapy and legal support free of charge, as well as legal follow-ups, to reinforce the people’s rights and limit future violations. Kris was very impressed by AVAC’s work and decided to make them the focus of his film.
Zyara is a cultural exchange program that aims to introduce US citizens, including academics, journalists, physicians, lawyers, and people of faith, to the political and socioeconomic situation in Palestine, and provide them with opportunities to meet and interact with Palestinians from all walks of life in order to better understand the Palestinian perspective and the political realities of their daily life. Zyara takes into consideration the participants’ areas of interests when planning the trips. The program is implemented by Taawon, in partnership with the American Federation of Ramallah-Palestinewith funding from the Bank of Palestine and the United Palestinian Appeal.