The Middle East Experience: Conflict Made Real
She was only 10. She was not a terrorist. She did not know what this war meant.
This January I spent two weeks in Jordan and Israel as a volunteer on the Middle East Experience. It was a chance for 16 high school students to see some of the biggest problems our world is facing and learn about the humanity in a conflict so often reduced to little more than statistics. We met with community and not-for-profit organisations, with diplomats and children and we travelled to world wonders and historical sites.
We went over with background research, passion and ideas. We’ve returned with a collection of stories which I don’t think we could ever put aside or forget. We wanted to share with you what we found to be humanity in conflict.
In an after school care room complete with plastic chairs and walls children’s art, we met with Collateral Repair Project and listened to a story that made the conflict in Syria very real and very close.
We see death everyday. We don’t feel like humans. There is no future for us. There’s no work.
A Syrian refugee stood up the front and told his story. While I cannot write it in his words, I think this is something that needs to be shared. His daughter was 10 years old and playing with a doll when their house was bombed and she was buried under the rubble. Running through the street crying he looked for help telling a taxi driver that the blood would be on his hands. At night, in the back of a pick-up truck, they made their way to the Jordanian border – and in the snow he carried his daughter on his back to find help.
Seeing the effect this story had on us he brought out his daughter. While the scars of war will never heal she was alive and smiling. It was easy to see though how this story could have had a very different ending. This grassroots organisation we had gone to see was small but the help they offer refugees is immeasurable.
Children in a conflict is one of the hardest things to confront but, at a school in Jerusalem, they gave us a story full of joy. The Hand-in-Hand School is a school in which Palestinians and Israelis are taught in the same classroom. We saw the integration of beliefs and languages working to break down fears so prevalent in the society. We needed no better sign of this than a classroom singing happy birthday to one of our students in three languages.
We also made our own stories – in our experiences in a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum, to racing up a mountain at Petra to catch the sunrise.
I loved the sunset over the citadel in Amman and of course the camel ride across the Wadi Rum desert. Taking in the sights and sounds of the landscape, which differed so much from urban Sydney, really broadened my perspective and helped me realise how incredible our world is.
A really central part of the experience was the knowledge and personal experience that our guides shared with us. Muhammad Al Qaisi and Hasan Mitwalli brought an incredible amount to the trip and we were so lucky to work with them.
The highlights of the trip were endless but it was clear that the people we met and organisations we talked with gave us an understanding of the horrors of conflict. More importantly though, it showed us the young people of iDARE working for change, the soldiers standing up to the army for which they fight and the place that we can have in advocating and making change in our world.