Wednesday 15 August 2018


Today was the last day of the camp before the big celebration on Saturday and we spent it out on a trip to a swimming pool in Beir Zeit. We took the kids and some local parents to the club and had a lovely day in the sun. The kids really enjoyed it, alot of them practicing and learning how to swim. We had lunch there, donated kindly and generously by the shop below dar assadaqa, a selected of salamis, bread and juice, more than enough to keep us going throughout the day.

After we finished with the swimming us volunteers were lucky enough to see a comedy show in a hotel in ramallah, starring Amer Zahr. We did a little bit it shipping before hand and of course went to eat then to have our daily knafeh (it's becoming a bit of a tradition among us).
Over all a very nice day and a lovely way to end the camp.
Here's to a great weekend!

Friday 10 August 2018

Sea, sun, sand

Sea, sun, sand. Or mud?
Today was another weekend day for us volunteers, so we took the chance to unwind with our friends here and visit the dead sea beside Jericho. Heat and salt, both in great excess today! The dead sea offered us floating and mud masks and an unforgettable view of Jordan just what seemed like a swim away. Unfortunately that's not a possibly leisure here, and I doubt if we were allowed anyway the pure lack of control in the unbearably salty water wouldn't have allowed it. We enjoyed cold drinks from 'the lowest bar on earth' (overpriced as always, but most defineltly worth it). The trip was lovely and we've all come back golden brown, or bright red and what is to become golden brown. A fresh chicken shawarma was excitedly welcomed on the way back.
P.s. the learning never stops here, today's lesson: a game of tarneeb (yaz and mosaab deffo won sorry Ahmad and pauline) :)

A tightening grip

  A Tightening grip
Today we all went on a tour around Abu Dis which Abed had planned and our friends Mousa and Mosab came with us. We circled around the town taking in Bethany, also known as Al Eizariya, because it is here that John’s Gospel records the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and Sawaher.
As we completed the circle we encountered one dead end after another. The first was at the Zytunna (olive) Terminal which cuts a road that led from Abu Dis to Jerusalem. It houses the Civil Dept where people can apply for permits to walk across and is an army base.  From there we headed on to what was historically the road between Jerusalem and Amman, now crossed and closed by the wall. Nearby stands a large and impressive building which was to have been the ‘Palestinian Parliament’ but permission was cancelled by the Israelis when nearly completed because they found it to be in Area C and therefore under military control. There too is the Cliff Hotel which was owned by an Abu Dis family who decided to demolish and rebuild it. Work on the building was stopped when it was found to have “no owner”. A member of the family pursued the matter and an Israeli court confirmed that it was theirs, but the army would have a base on the roof. It is now part of the wall.
Perhaps the greatest mess is in Sawaher which has been divided in two. In this process many families have come to have mixed IDs – green, West Bank and blue, Jerusalem. It is illegal for them to live in one house together. They have either to separate or live on either side and often their children have no ID. Just a detail - the checkpoint in the middle of the town and cuts off the graveyard. Those who wish to attend a funeral have to apply individually for permits and cannot thereafter visit a grave.
From Sawaher we reached the south east corner of the area, where the north/ south road through the West Bank ran.  It is now the first checkpoint between Abu Dis and Bethlehem. That very morning a young man was attacked by the army for taking photos and over the past 3 years 7 young people have been killed at this checkpoint. It is often closed during rush hour, delaying students and people trying to get to work.  Students from the south attending Al Quds University often try to find accommodation in Abu Dis at times when they risk being prevented from taking their exams.
The last part of our tour took us to Khal Ahmar, the Bedouin village which the Israelis now want to move into Abu Dis in the process of clearing the Bedouin areas to leave ‘empty lands’ for settlements. This will complete the settlement ring around Jerusalem and make travel even more difficult. Our journey back takes us again to the old Jerusalem/ Abu Dis, Jordan road. In front of us is Maalodumim Settlement, the biggest in Palestine, built on land from Abu Dis, Bethany and Sawaher.  We return to Abu Dis on the only road open to the residents of those towns. Beyond is a new road which only Israelis and those they permit can use.

The Palestinian weekend

The Palestinian weekend. Thursday and Friday. You can really see the difference in the town, and they're free days for cadfa volunteers, time to travel! Yesterday we took the chance to visit the far city of nablus, home of knafeh and to one of our dear friends ahmad's beautiful family. Since to travel to nablus you need to pass through ramallah, we figured we'd take the chance to also visit ramallah for a couple of hours, two trips in one! Ramallah was buzzing and busy, we walked through the town centre and through the old city, looked though some beautiful hand made delicates and got to see some dabkeh at a local event. We then sat down to a delicious mix grill meal whilst waiting for our friend mosaab to meet us. After he arrived it was time to leave to nablus, a bit of a journey but definetly worth it. We arrived straight away seeing the nablus town sign (of course picture opportunity was taken) then we made our way to the old city to buy souvenirs and see the famous knafeh shop, you can see the knafeh being made on one side to it being taken over to be served just opposite it! And of course the eating the knafeh was even better! After the old city we made our way into the mountains of nablus to catch a view of the city, a beautiful sight from so high up. The last thing on our list to do, the main event of the day was to visit ahmad's family home as we had a very kind invite to dinner with them. Ahmad's mother was making musakhan (which yas was very pleased about, musakhan crazy!) And of course the meal was beautifully presented and even more beautifully tasting! We really enjoyed the kind invitation of ahmad's family and we had a great night drinking tea and eating fruit. The long journey back was a nice rest for us all after our long day of exploring. Thanks Ahmad and mosaab for a lovely day :)

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Greenhouse farm fun

Today we started the summer camp at 4pm rather than the usual 9am (a well deserved lie in and a sigh of relief for some of our volunteers). The late start was so we could have our first day trip out, they've previously been to visit the local fire station but before us volunteers graced abudis with our presence. We loaded the shuttle buses with the kids and made our way to a local strawberry farm, the farmer from abudis had invited the kids to learn about the work he does there and to help set up the greenhouses for the new season of strawberry growing. This involved making trips back and forth with the plastic containers and loading them on to the shelves ready to be filled with soil, a task which the kids enjoyed,(something we'll never understand as running around in the heat of a summer house alone is unbearable, let alone a summer house in Palestine). Once we had drained the kids of all their energy (you're welcome parents for the easy night time routine tonight) the farmer talked to them about growing produce in the green house Vs growing it outside and the benefits, also about how things work at his farm, he explained to them what a plant needs
to grow healthly, we did this over a nice cold glass of juice and well deserved chocolate cake.
The trip was a success and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, can the same be said for the volunteers? You decide from the photos at the bottom ;)

Monday 6 August 2018

Saturday 4 August 2018

Day 1 Dar Assadaqa summer camp

Today was the first day at Dar Assadaqa's summer camp. We woke up early to bright light pouring through the window. (Well, most of us did; Yasmin remained sound asleep for too long). Our first day at the camp started with its usual morning exercise routine.  Saed, who coordinates the camp, led all 24 children in stretches and movements to get them ready for the day ahead. We then played a series of games, including one that we taught the group (a popular British children's game). They loved it! Once everyone was warmed up and energised, the group was split into three smaller groups based on their age.

Throughout the day, each group rotated and participated in various activities that were run my ourselves and the Dar Assadaqa volunteers. We are particularly proud of this hand tree that was created in the art session.

Each child traced around their hand, and decorated the shape with colour, patterns and words that represent who they are. This was a valuable tool for getting to know the children, and for them to get to know us.

Groups also enjoyed Dabkeh dancing and drama games. This enabled children to both learn and practise English, and celebrate their Palestinian culture. They even taught us a Bedoin style of dancing!

The camp finished in the early afternoon and we said goodbye to our new friends. This wrapped up a brilliant first day at the camp and we can't wait to carry on tomorrow.

We were then invited to have lunch at the Al Quds University campus with a group of international medical students visiting the medical landscape of Palestine. We met with some old friends and played cards under an olive tree (though a little too loudly for the campus security's linking!)

As we write this, Pauline is leading her English class for local women over a glass of fresh juice and biscuits. It has been a long day but the end is not in sight, as Yaz promises to support Flo in her ongoing quest for daily knafa.

Thursday 2 August 2018


Tuesday 31 July – Wednesday 1 August 2018
The fan is gently wafting the warm air in the bedroom of the Guest house as I write.  It is the end of our first full day in Abu Dis. Flo has arrived completing our group and Yas and I have returned from a wonderful evening of hospitality which has removed the last traces of the stress of getting away, queueing at Luton and 4 hours with security in the airport in Tel Aviv.  Kefah, a member of the women’s group brought us an invitation to her mother ‘s house – but more of that later.
The amazing love that people feel here for their native land, in spite of all the restrictions of occupation, has framed the time so far. The taxi driver who brought us into Abu Dis had ‘ been in England several  times - had to come back, though I’m doing 3 jobs, it’s the life, it’s the people. The food’. And he went on to sayIt will get better here. But it will get alot worse before it does so’, expressing the hope that operates in absence of visible signs which I have often seen working in Palestine.
But the sadness of separations is part of everyone’s life here. The old ones of the waves of refugee-making and the new ones created by the wall, boundaries and check points that make it possible for the army to isolate the central area around Jerusalem from the north and the south, in the way that Gaza is already isolated, at any time.  Abed, the Cadfa co-ordinator in Dar Assadaqa, the Friendship House, explained this broader context when he briefed us this morning about the summer activities for children. The place was alive with children competing to fill plastic bottles with water  held in cups in their mouths. The air was filled with shouts of glee.
The day has been busy. We had a really helpful meeting in the morning, with Abedwhere we used a questionnaire which showed us what we didn’t know and needed to know. Then Kefah and her daughter came and led us on a tour of the Al Quds (Jerusalem) University. There we saw its wonderfully endowed library and dropped in on the rubic cube awards ceremony, where we saw little kids being given big golden cups and medals. Everywhere we went we got a great welcome and gradually a larger group joined us on our tour. The University has recognition all around the world’ they said. I said, ‘But I’ve heard that their degrees are not recognised and people can’t get jobs. ‘That’s here,’ they said. Only Israel doesn’t recognise the degrees. But the medical school is very famous and recently a successful case was taken to the Supreme Court and the University won and the medical degrees are recognised’. One of the reasons for the difficulties the university has is its name, Al Quds.  The Queen’s university of Belfast, where I come from, also has a great reputation for medicine. Medical expertise flourishes in places where there has been a lot of trouble. The campus is lovely and after our tour we were treated to iced lemon drinks in a garden of olive trees, before returning to Dar Assadaqa.
Dar Assadaqa has no funding from the local council and relies on support from Cadfa and other donors and the work of volunteers.  It runs the summer camps and has the women’s group we have come to work with but also has a role in linking with other local organisations that build up the community.  It has been going for 4 years, and during that time many people have come to visit Abu Dis and people from Abu Dis have visited England and Paris. ‘Twinning’ is understood here as developing lasting relationships.  We met Saed, who runs the summer camps and the young volunteers and the children who were having a great time trying to fill bottles of water from cups carried in their teeth.  Last year 41 children came but this year following a night time raid on the building by the army a week ago, some parents were worried and at present there are only 25.  Abed told us that one year the army lobbed a gas cylinder in and only that they had rushed the children out through the back door, it could have been terrible.
So, we are here, have done our shopping and settled in.  And that brings me back to the evening andthe lovely welcome at Kefah’s mothers house. There when more and more family members kept arriving and we watched he evening light on the view over Wadi al Jahir. From there we went on to Kefah’s sister’s housewhere we listened to the gentle playing of the oud. Then, as we settled, there was a great burst of noise – shooting or fireworks? Definitely fireworks. A wedding? Maybe. No, no. A prisoner has been released today’. Our host, he it was who played the oud, who has made a life here, spoke of the frustrations that make so many leave, yet ‘never wanted to leave, never went further than Amman. The roots are deep’. His words echoed those of the taxi driverwho brought us to Abu Dis.