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The weather is warm and the windows are flung open. The room is spacious decked with brown school chairs. It is eleven-thirty in the morning. It tends to be a little difficult to stick exactly to time in Bethlehem but allowances have already been made.
As I look around the Freres school resource room I can see an array of young faces. The Arab Educational Institute (AEI) has invited these youth to participate in a Euro-Arab Dialogue Project from Below supported workshop, entitled Open Windows.
Leading to the workshop
The Arab Educational Institute, a community education center , plans to establish an activity and communication house in which Palestinians from various ages, primarily young people, would meet. It is provisionally called open windows in order to show our determination not to succumb to the closure and to the corresponding suffocation of Palestinian society. A general feature of the house would be to encourage Palestinians from different gender, background and religion to mingle and do projects together, and interact with people abroad. The house will be open to different organizations who may develop various projects in the field of youth and communication. The aim of the workshop therefore, was to meet and brainstorm with youth concerning their visions for the youth house.
Encouraged to dream
The earlier part of the workshop was taken over by youth preparing a visual image of a house they would like to participate in. In fact this was not an easy task! Partners were asked to share a pencil and were not allowed to discuss with each other what they would like to draw beforehand. Results as well as cooperation varied:
A number of houses resembled the type of house one learns to draw at a young age in school with a smoking chimney, four windows, curly curtains and a beautiful garden with trees. A comfortable house, inviting for youth to feel at home in. Others included more detail imagining a hostel for foreign volunteers and the presence of people and activity. One drawing by two school students emphasizes a swimming pool and young people relaxing with each other- a not very common scene these days. Yet another emphasized the need for representing the Palestinian refugee and his situation as part and parcel of a Bethlehem community image. At least two drawings remain undecipherable show signs of difficulty in silent cooperation however,
three houses particularly stand out for the detail provided. Close your eyes. Imagine the following:
As you walk through a small garden with tall trees (evident in most of the drawings ), you notice a house with the flat Palestinian roof particularly useful as an open-air youth meeting room for sunny days. The house is divided into four main quarters: training room(s) for various courses and projects, a library and music room to which Bethlehemites presently have little access to, an international contacts and technology room and a guest house for volunteers. Since the house concentrates upon communication, there would be a satellite perhaps. Definitely, as stated above, the value of comfort and homeliness proved to be an important aspect of the house.
You see, house and hospitality mean a lot to Palestinians. A quiet but lively house and good food is much valued. In fact, beit from Bethlehem does not mean just house as a building structure but also refers to a house as a living stone, a hospitable place, a life giving symbol of fertility and fruitfulness, of bread (Hebrew) and meat (Arabic). In Palestine and perhaps in the Arab world at large, a house often remains unfinished. It is a familys dream to have a house, especially when it is surrounded by land. Often it is a lifes project and the pride of the family, even if it remains incomplete due to lack of funds to continue building . During one working group, youth expressed that in fact there were a number of house constructed with the issue of youth in mind, however due to a lack of sustainability and cooperation or funding, the idea never materialized.
The AEI youth house would be open to Palestinians from different backgrounds and religion to cooperate together and interact with people from abroad. However, the house would also consist of a loose youth leadership- persons who feel at home in the house- almost what the AEI has now achieved with its current youth group- but also involved in developing and taking an active role in the running of the house.
More specifically the AEI youth house would be aimed at:
- Developing international communication between youth groups in Palestine and youth abroad, through computer exchanges and mutual visits in order to build relationships and allow for younger generations to be more aware of different realities beyond their local environments.
- Involving different sectors of Palestinian society in reflecting upon their experiences and communicating them through the help of various media.
- Creating platforms and networks for educational exchanges between Palestine, the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium). Youth expressed the need for training in inter-cultural and communication skills to ensure the successful functioning of such platforms which could also include sharing Palestinian stories and experiences with international youth.
- Creating opportunities for young people, especially young women, to empower themselves through joint social activities.
- Exploring the local heritage and culture, including the shared Christian-Moslem culture of Palestine.
- Opening space for cooperation between local Palestinian and international organizations, especially related to the peace movement and Western and Eastern churches. Youth also expressed their interest not only to cooperate with peace movements and churches but also other international organizations dealing with similar issues.
To sustain the house, AEI plans to set up an international network of friends. The members of the network would be invited to pay a certain annual contribution to the house, while in exchange they would receive some services, such as free reception of AEI publications, the opportunity to stay at peoples homes when visiting Bethlehem and to share in a cultural visitor programme, and access to local educational networks.
The house will be open to different organizations who may develop various projects in the field of youth and communication. AEI will be caretaker of the house but the visibility of the projects and activities will be a responsibility of the organizations involved. The house is scheduled to become operational in the beginning of 2002.
Fuad Giacaman AEI Director
Shireen Muradian AEI Executive Secretary
Toine van Teeffelen AEI DME (Design Monitoring Evaluation) coordinator
Karishma Budhdev AEI Project Coordinator
AEI Youth Group
Ala Owaineh, Eyad Jarayseh, Ibrahim Khleif, Musa Subeh, Nadine Ali, Nermine Rishmawi, Rawan Khater, Yara Abbayat
PYLARA Youth Group
Elias Awad, Haneen Musleh, Lina Musleh, Khaled Kumsieh, Ahmad Al Madbouh, Issa Estefan, Amal Owaineh
Rafat Safi, Mahmoud Shalawi Aroub Camp, Beit Omar UNWRA school
Eyad Abourdineh Arab Orthodox Society
Jannie KuikWim Bartels Ead/IKV The Hague
Ossama Zougbi Teddy Krum WIAM Center, Bethlehem