Ahlan Wa Sahlan!

Since 2005, Siraj has been achieving its vision of becoming one of the most prominent and innovative organizations driving the development of responsible tourism, and re-branding Palestine as a destination for experiential travel and human connection. We are pioneers in Palestine. Our diverse responsible tourism programs include local community tours, home stays, interfaith programs, pilgrimages, and cultural and fact-finding missions, as well as other special interest programs. We are committing to making our tourism packages environmentally friendly, and offer an extensive array of outdoor programs, including walking/hiking (www.walkpalestine.com) and cycling tours (www.bikepalestine.com) along the Nativity Trail, Sufi Trail, Jerusalem Wilderness and Abraham Path, the first long distance walking route through the West Bank (www.masaribrahim.ps).

Testimony - Victoria Close

My first week in Palestine has been incredible.  Not only are all my planned activities with the Siraj Center great, but each and every hour of living here brings new and exciting experiences. 

The group that I am with is awesome.  It is small enough to get to know everybody well, but large and diverse enough so that we can enjoy spending long days together.  Everybody comes from a different background.  It is always exciting to hear stories from the group members. 

The classes are really fast-paced, but also really interesting.  They may be hard for me because they are college courses and I am still in high school.  In Arabic, we have already learned how to conjugate verbs in the past tense, and in Palestine History, we have a map quiz on Monday.  We’ve only had four classes!  Even so, I am happy to be learning so much in class. 

I’m not sure how I feel about my volunteer work.  I’m volunteering at the Arab Educational Institute, but I’ve only really worked for them once so far because of scheduling issues.  I really like what the organization has done and is planning on doing though.  They had thought that I was older before they met me, so they were going to have me teach a class.  When I came into their office on the first day, they realized I couldn’t be a teacher for a class with students the same age as me.  Instead, they have me working as a photographer for a cultural project.  I go to museums and take pictures of the things there.  These pictures will go on a website for people to learn more about the culture of the Bethlehem area.  While its really cool to have my pictures posted on a website, I am afraid that the work might get repetitive and I might get bored.

The nighttime activities are really fun.  I loved the Dabka class!  At first, it was hard to do, but once I got into it, it was super fun.  I can’t wait for the lesson next week!  The cooking class was also cool, but not as fun.  I had wanted to cook the food myself, instead of only watching the cook do it.  The movie was really good.  I wish I could have watched it earlier in the day because I was so tired from the day’s activities that when the movie started, it was hard for me to focus well.  I am excited to meet the director of the movie though.  The barbecue on Friday was just what I needed after a long week.  I liked that we could just sit down, relax, talk, and laugh. 

I really enjoyed the trip on Saturday because it showed me a lot of things I had never seen before.  I hadn’t known about the situation between the settlers and the Palestinians in Hebron until I watched Iron Wall.  Before then, I had always thought that the settlers and Palestinians were always completely separate from each other and never interacted.  Now I know that the settlements in Hebron and the Israeli people are a constant pressing force for the Palestinians that live there.  Going to the refugee camp near Beit Sahour was interesting.  I wish we could have gone through it and seen more of it instead of only looking at the wall though. 

Overall, my time here has been awesome.  I’ve learned so much and had such a great experience.  Four weeks are not enough!

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