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.
A few days ago marked my one-month anniversary of arriving in Palestine, and as I reflect on this past month I am overwhelmed at all I have seen, heard and learned. It is impossible to separate daily life here from the political climate in which we live, and the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories pervades almost every aspect of my experience.
However, my volunteer work with Project Hope has shown me a side of Palestinian life that many outsider observers would miss. I am teaching English classes ranging from kindergarten children to middle-aged mothers, and assisting the director of a choir at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Palestine. Each class has its own character: my middle school class at the Sama Club loves worksheets and word searches, my women’s class at the Hamdi Manko center likes to go through their children’s textbooks to answer their own questions, and my private vocal students are working on a duet, “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Even inside the classroom though, it is difficult to escape politics; an unassuming conversation about marriage customs may end in a story about a wedding held under an Israeli-imposed curfew, and a lesson about travel might transform into an account of a canceled trip due to the restrictions faced by citizens living under occupation.
And yet, my students are carrying on with a life removed from the protests rocking the West Bank in recent days. My kindergarteners are still coloring outside of the lines, my high school boys are still watching every Barcelona and Real Madrid match, and my mothers are still cooking dinner and helping their children with their homework. In spite of the incredible injustices and challenges they face, my students are pursuing dreams and love and success and optimism. One of my students, Wael, is studying Biology and is currently preparing a presentation on genetics; another one, Hala, is hoping to work as a translator after she finishes her studies.
Working with them has revealed the other side to me, and I see more clearly the tremendous degree of nuance at play in this region. Nothing is black and white, and politics is marbled into the social and cultural fabric of every population. The lives of my students in Palestine are no exception, and their studies and efforts under such extreme duress are inspiring. Each class with them is another flower blooming from the cracks in the sidewalk.