We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a guest post by Mohammad Abulkibash, a long-time volunteer at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus and a member of TYO’s Youth Leadership Committee. He recently graduated from An Najah National University where he studied English Language and Literature.
I have been volunteering with TYO since 2010 as a translator for American interns in drama, IT, Big Brother, photography and sports classes. It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite class I participated in because I think every class has added something to both my personality and skills set. But if I absolutely had to choose, I would say Big Brother was my favorite class thus far. Working alongside Colin – an American intern – gave me the chance to learn more about the boys in my class – how they think and who they are. The most rewarding part of the class was the strong connection Colin and I made with the boys. So much so that they came to us for advice and sought our help on things outside of the classroom.
When Americans come to Nablus, they come to represent their country and their culture. Throughout my volunteer work with TYO, I met many warm, friendly, and inspiring Americans. But what I appreciate the most is that the interns leave their homes behind to come devote their time to help my community. Before even meeting and knowing these interns, I was inspired by what drove them all here, and although they all had their various stories that led them to Nablus, it’s the American culture of giving back that ultimately brought them here. Each session, once I get to know the interns, I try and change their image of Palestine and the Middle East – that we’re hospitable and kind. But I also hope to teach them about Nabulsi culture – and about what’s considered acceptable and unacceptable.
Having American volunteers in a city like Nablus is very important because Nablus is such a small city – without many foreigners – and with many problems – especially in the refugee camps. One main benefit of having Americans here is engaging in cultural exchange. They get to see the problems we face first-hand and we get to learn about Americans and their ideals. As a Palestinian, we enjoy sharing our stories and introducing other people to our city on a wider scope. When it comes to opening up to others, I have found Americans to be so open-minded, easygoing, and less restricted in terms of norms and traditions. Palestinians tend to be more conservative and stick to their traditions firmly as a way to hold on to their heritage.
With every session comes a new group of Americans and new chances to learn about cultures, but this spring I had the opportunity to experience a unique cultural exchange. This time, I was getting to visit America. And I couldn’t imagine a better city than Washington DC – the melting pot of all cultures – to speak for Palestine and to educate others about my commitment to my community in Nablus. In Washington, I had the honor of attending CGI U as a representative of TYO and of Palestine. My first conference of this scale, CGI U 2012 brought hundreds of inspired and inspiring students from all over the world to discuss their vision towards improving their communities. And I was one of them.
Toward the end of my week in the US, all I could think about was going home to see my friends and all that I would tell them about my experience. By sharing everything I saw and did in Washington, my experience in America wouldn’t just end at the airport. I felt at that moment the responsibility I had to the people of Nablus – to my family and friends who have never had the opportunity to leave Palestine – to tell them about the changes we need to make in our community. The youth of Nablus need to realize their potential to influence others positively through volunteerism. Our role in society isn’t just to go to university and study theory without practice – it’s to make a difference.
Palestine is a country that needs the support of volunteers the most. Considering its critical situation, voluntary work is needed to make sustainable change quickly. Volunteering in Palestine is a way of helping a community overcome difficulties and to raise a generation of youth who care about their futures and are willing to live. Palestinian youth lack motivation. For a person to start volunteering, they need to be motivated to do so. As a volunteer in my community, I am always encouraging my peers give back to Nablus as it is not just beneficial for the community but also for the volunteer. But young people here need to understand that volunteering in Palestine means making change.
If you could ask Palestine what it needs the most, it would say “my youth.” As a son of Palestine, I responded to this call. To plant a smile on the children’s faces and to help grow my community to become successful. Volunteering is a duty and I do it because a voice inside tells me I need to. I must give back to Palestine what it has given to me. It’s a challenge that starts from within and spreads outwards to others. We still have a long way to go, but with the help of American volunteers who come to Nablus, I’m confident that we can make a real chance in my city.