Activities and Projects

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Youth activation and leadership program

Targeting Palestinian youth in the Bethlehem-Hebron, this educational program follows three stages which build upon each other and encourage its trainees to reach different levels of maturity, skills and responsibilities:

  • Activating youth and building management leadership skills through in-house workshops and discussions
  • Encouraging the youth to take responsibility and gain experience in setting up socio-cultural activities in the Youth House
  • Transmitting experiences and skills to new groups of youth leaders outside the Youth House, and to establish mutually productive exchanges of experiences.

There are, in the southern West Bank and elsewhere in Palestine, many youth available who have time on their hands, are looking for a combination of education and relaxation, who desire friendly relations with peers and educators and a participatory and public role in society. Many do not know what to do. There are few social-cultural opportunities in their environment. AEI’s Youth House, which hosts the youth activation and leadership program, therefore meets a real need in the community.

At the same time the activation and training in youth leadership is an asset for AEI’s other activities and programs. Pro-active attitudes and experienced youth leaders enhance the quality of international exchanges and computer programs, and build a cadre of facilitators at the School of Communication.

 

AEI groups: methodology

In general, AEI’s youth groups practice a holistic approach involving

  • Bodily activation in sports and fieldtrips
  • Appreciating beauty in Palestine
  • Learning more about Palestine, its history, religions and culture
  • Discussing and solving problems in daily life
  • Sharing (religious) celebrations
  • Learning from foreign cultures and seeing oneself in the mirror of others
  • Fun and leisure
  • Meditative meetings reading texts from the holy books or from wisdom and non-violence traditions

One dilemma in organizing the youth groups is that often several project activities put a claim on their members. The meetings become split up in too many different and unrelated activities. Therefore we develop, in close cooperation with the groups, flexible workshop procedures which keep the activities of the groups focused. It is clear that the groups are primarily interested in discussing daily life issues that directly affect them at their age. Learning English or intercultural skills are additional topics, while celebrations around certain days (such as Valentine’s Day) are important for the functioning of the group. So in coordination with each group’s leaders, who are part of AEI’s youth cadre, various topics are selected that are central to the groups’ concerns.

The youth cadre is trained to work with such issues, and to include steps such as:

  • Identifying daily life situations with which youth have to engage
  • Identifying and discussing the dilemmas and values at stake
  • Collecting advice about how to deal with such situations, either through persons available or through the Internet.
  • Telling remarkable stories of hope, persistence and creativity relevant to those situations, showing the narrative horizon and potential of a situation
  • Perhaps working on those stories of hope through practical role-playing or media use (photography, video) or other imaginative methods
  • Dialoguing about such products
  • If applicable: Seeing the connection with the general Palestinian narrative of sumud
  • Discussing how the stories can be a source of inspiration in real life.

 

The group leaders are not asked to apply these options step by step or in any mechanical way (remember, these activities are outside school and should have a good fun element) but rather use them as a frame of attention for facilitating the meetings. In general we choose projects which “fit” these steps rather than imposing project requirements on groups. The consequence of this reversal is a focus on what youth really interest within their life horizon rather than to start with large concepts such as “peace” and “justice.” In terms of motivation, we expect that such an approach will increase the groups’ intrinsic learning motivation.

The outcome is a better capacity to judge value-loaded situations in daily life, and the capacity to communicate and explain them within the group and outside.

Such an approach leaves room for the involvement of international volunteers at AEI. They especially helps in the communication process, such as support in skills of good listening, respect and communication, and raising awareness about feelings.

A toolkit box is developed to be able to work on those issues in attractive, pleasurable and lively ways.

 

Outreach

In the outreach part of the youth program, we develop joint cultural activities with youth in locations outside Bethlehem town, especially villages and camps in the Bethlehem-Hebron area. As part of the outreach, flexible Arts products are developed which allow for participation by the audience and adaptation to the local situation. We scout among youths in the village or camp to include in the Arts some who, due to talents in music or other Arts, can take on active roles in the project. In this way, the Arts product becomes more of a co-production between AEI and youths in the villages and camp, and we are making room for talented youths who see this networking as a way to reach out to the world from a rather closed local society.

The Arts productions take on an element of advocacy and the promotion of rights, especially because all villages and camp are threatened by the building of the Wall, and because this is of course a major concern for youth.

In addition to the Arts, we in each place work together with youth to either make digital pictures or a video with stories of youth about the village or camp, including the human rights issues pertinent there.

 

Youth projects at the Arab Educational Institute

  • Living in the Holy Land, Respecting Differencesbalances inter-religious approaches with more concrete issues of daily life “sumud” (steadfastness) which Palestinian students face. The project aims to show how the values brought out by the monotheistic religions are relevant to the lives of adolescent students, and fosters connections with the land and its communities. The project includes lesson plans for students at 15 schools in Ramallah and Bethlehem, teacher workshops at the beginning and the end of the year, and guest lectures and discussion meetings at all the schools involved, twice a year.
  • Fieldtripsto (inter-)religious places show our groups how people keep community and their connection with the land – real and symbolic. The choice of annually some five fieldtrips depends on the political and safety situation but they take place either in the vicinity of Bethlehem or further away near other Palestinian cities like Ramallah, Nablous and Hebron. The aim of the fieldtrips is primarily to show and learn about people’s religious stories of the land and its communities, and they are integrated in the Living in the Holy Land project.
  • In their weekly meetings, AEI’s youth groups (3 groups) discuss issues of relevance to their daily lives, and look for avenues of change and hope, crossing Moslem-Christian borders.
  • AEI conducts computer exchanges with different countries.
  • Outside the tourism program, AEI-Open Windows annually involves international face to face exchanges in which groups of Palestinian youth and women communicate daily life in Palestine toward foreign audiences (visits abroad: work camps, intercultural meetings, study sessions).
  • During its Summer School of Communication AEI’s groups are trained in communication skills, with special attention to communicating the cultural and inter-religious identity of Palestine. AEI group members are also trained in preparation of international exchanges.
  • AEI’s School of Communication annually provides opportunities for some 50 youth to develop basic media skills through 5 short term courses in various media, or multiple media, including web-page design, and video montage/editing.
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