Testing the Waters—
Palestine & Israel, 2006

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Two stories from Gaza

By Skip Schiel

At the urging of Amal Sabawi, director of the American Friends Service Committee's youth program in Gaza, I interviewed two coaches with the Popular Achievement program. After as much consultation as was feasible, I'm posting their stories.


Adham Khalil

How can I best use my skills to work with youth? asked Adham Khalil, a young man now serving as a coordinator for Popular Achievement in Al-Assria Cultural Center for Children and Youth organized by the Union of Health Work Committees.

With a history of working with children thru dance workshops and other forms of expression and an education in child development, he’d trained as a Popular Achievement  coach but decided not to become a coach. He was working in a summer camp and wished to work more directly with children. His camp offered four “corners” or activity centers—culture, sport, arts, and theater. He initiated a fifth corner—Popular Achievement  because he was  convinced by the idea of  popular achievement.

Appreciating the core values of Popular Achievement —voluntary work, community service, group decision making, youth emphasis, and time management —he formed a group within the camp that chose to make a peaceful demonstration inviting people to organize and clean Jabalia refugee camp market. In addition, they created a cleanliness campaign  around the camp. The children discussed  the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and then participated  in a solidarity demonstration with prisoners’ families. He also stressed expressing one’s feelings and knowing one’s rights.

One problem he’s faced with the camp corner is kids who make trouble within the program. “Just love them,” he said, “and they usually respond positively.”

Lurking in his past is the murder of his brother in 1993. “Why did the Israeli army have to fire 30 bullets into his body?” he asked, pained by this wanton humiliation heaped on a senseless murder. “I have not forgiven the Israelis. The responsible people should be tried, convicted and made to pay, but I wish to live in peace and thus would not use violence to address the injustice.”

He believes that learning skills to improve one’s own community is a form of resistance to the occupation. He refuses to be paralyzed by waiting for international or governmental aid or for assistance by expert.”  He compares this approach to that of someone discovering hungry people. He said, “We can serve the people by giving them fish, but we perform a greater service when we teach them how to fish.”

A second goal is building awareness. “The Israelis want us to be ignorant about our situation. But when we help the kids see the big picture, they are more willing to resist. We can learn to liberate ourselves with our own hands.”

From Adham about the beach attacks in Gaza, June 2006


Rawand Ajour

Rawand coaches a college level group of Popular Achievement. They’ve not been together long so haven’t yet chosen a project.

The university dean chose candidates for Popular Achievement. She feels she was chosen because of her work with the student council. Successfully passing interviews with Popular Achievement staff, she began a group but didn’t continue because of her personal schedule conflicts.

She began again, this time with a group of 20 girls from a social service collective. They felt something was missing from their university experience and thru brainstorming, discussion, and lectures, hope to decide a project that will address some problem at the university. Altho they started recently, they have to finish the cycle by July 9, not much time to do this work.

Males and females mix comfortably in the various groups, unusual in the relatively conservative social and political climate of Gaza. “Yes,” she answered with a wry smile when I probed with the obvious question of whether Popular Achievement offers courtship opportunities, that is, chances to meet one’s future mate.

She believes that Popular Achievement  in its present form is best suited to younger youth 13 – 17, but needs radical adaptation to fit the needs of older youth. She hasn’t yet suggested to me what this adaptation might be, I’ve asked her.

Photos: Gaza-7

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