Volunteers Testimonies and Stories

Read about the real experiences of people from all over the world joining our team in Palestine for an eye-opening adventure. Whether you already decided to volunteer with Karama or if you are looking for more information about volunteering with refugees in Palestine, you will find some personal insights here. Some volunteers have used to creativity to share with you stories about their trips and time in Karama and the lessons they learned while living among the Palestinian refugees.

With any questions or the wish to get directly in contact with (ex-)volunteers, please contact us at volunteers@karama.org

A fairytale in Palestine.
By Andreas from Denmark.

andreas in deheisheOnce upon a time, in every edge of world  three raw young birds saw the light of the day. But something went wrong. It was one of these coincidences in the villages where folk saw it necessary to condone the scenario. All of the three birds a mute swan, a white wagtail and a black kite searched for help. They tried everything; teambuilding, brand building, well even bodybuilding they tried, but their nests were missing.Continue reading...

My time with Karama Organization.
By Floor from Belgium.

floor presentation karama palestineI am Floor, a 23 year old girl from Belgium. I had been closely following the Palestinian situation for about 7 years and last year I had enough of only reading about it, I wanted to see and experience Palestine myself. Moreover, I hoped I could do something positive and constructive, in addition to expressing support to the Palestinian cause.
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Laila from Algeria/France - January 2014

Working in a refugee camp is demanding and challenging, the success of your stay will depend on your amount of love, patience and your willingness to understand the culture and the political situation. Here, the people face restricted access and limited privileges to health care, they live in a tough environment and are not recognized as a citizen with full rights.

I will forever be grateful for this journey, for all of the lessons I learned from the wonderful kids in Karama, from the elder who explained to me how the conflict has had an universal impact for the past 65 years. I want to express my deep respect for the kids of Deheishe, never complaining and living as any other child. Karama is a great place to grow. I am leaving Deheishe Refugee Camp with a heart full of gratitude for all I have , I came with an open heart and contributed at a modest level, I am blessed for not struggling to preserve my dignity and my freedom.

I also want to express my admiration for Antoinette, for her dedication and her hard work to make Karama a place where kids can express themselves. I will definitely come back for a new journey, InshAllah! Thank you to all.

laila teaching french in karama


Sofia and Dust from Portugal/Angola and Lativa - July 2014

After the cold Norwegian spring we arrive in Palestine, hot weather and strong security checking in the airport. After 20 minutes of a lot of questions we were out and the taxi was waiting for us. From Tel Aviv to Deheishe the feeling was 35 degrees in hard and dry desert. From the very beginning we realized that the situation in the area and also the obstacles to enter and life in Palestinian Authority are made difficult.anas with hamza dust
Arriving in Deheishe our first feeling wasn’t like arriving in a "typically" refugee camp (people living in tents). Deheishe is a more like a slum of refugees from 45 villages in the occupied Palestinian territory. While we were working in Karama we had the Summer camp were we did several activities with 30 kids from the camp. The first week we found ourselves fasting in day time, without speaking even a word in Arabic, with 35 dry degrees and 30 (non-stop) children. Fortunately we had the (hard) opportunity to be in Palestine during the Ramadan time. Ramadan means no eating or drinking between 4am to 8pm. As we are not Muslims we are allowed to eat but in the first week we tried to follow the local rhythm and we fast. As all the Islamic neighborhoods, Deheishe has a mosque in the camp, that transmit out loud all the 5 prays from the day (and night, the last one around 4am). The rhythm of life here is much slowly than our European cities.

To give us a context of the social and political situation we had good conversations with Luay, (Karama staff). After some trips we understood better the physical barriers (Israeli occupation, the big wall) and the influence that has in the way that these children grow up. West Bank is a huge open air jail surrounded by Israeli settlements, check points and The Wall. Israeli authority controls the water, the electricity, the food and medicines in all West Bank and Gaza Strip. Even though the situation may be dangerous we traveled around West Bank in some cities like Bethlehem, Nablus and some small villages. These trips were just possible to do it only on Saturdays, the day that the Jewish settlements have their holiday. We also had Arabic classes everyday with Wela, (our beautiful teacher). Arabic is not an easy language to learn but after a while some words come naturally. The constant violent environment generated in these children aggressively and the feeling the violence is normal and accepted. War propaganda and resistance are part of daily life for these children. We understood what generate all this violence and working with them we also understood that they are just small kids, with a lot of fear and not that much future perspectives, but still with dreams, energy, big and sweet smiles. It’s here, working in Karama that we found possible to give them time to play like all the kids should do, time to learn and share , time to forget for a couple of hours the reality of a refugee camp.

sofie with children in garden" To be with a host family was really amazing, I could be witness of some traditions and ways to related between family members. The Arabic hospitality is remarkable and I’ll never forget it. I really felt at home from the very beginning. This give me the amazing feeling to be part of something bigger than all that I experienced before. Realize that a family in Palestine with all the differences that we easily can see is so so similar to a family in Angola or Portugal gave me the wonderful feeling of Humanity. In the end I can say that this was one of the most amazing experiences in my life, that I’ll never forget this little kids, their names and smiles, all our games and funny moments. Now I'm richer than 3 weeks ago!

I meet here in Palestine good hearted men and women, I had the privilege to be part of a family that always treated me like a daughter. On top of all this experience I had also the privilege to be in contact with the Islamic culture and to learn how harmonious and fair an Islamic society can be.“ Sofia

Eleke from Belgium - May 2013

I came back from volunteering with Karama about a week ago. After extending my stay, I must say it wasn't easy to leave, for many reasons which I'll try to explain. It's hard to begin writing something, but once you started, it can be hard to stop. That's kind of how it was for me with Karama because there's always something new or unexpected happening. I wouldn't call the beginning hard, because it depends on you. Yes it is possible that in the first days you will be home alone sometimes as you're expected to spend the first days with the host family to get to know them, their culture and their habits. And of course sometimes they have to go to the mosque or to the shop or other things. They will not stop their lives for you and they have to get to know you too. During those days for me sometimes I wondered what to do and I thought it would be better to go to Karama so I would be busy. But then all the moments, like drinking mint tea together and them teaching me how to make it, sitting on the roof and talking about how we both see things in life, how things are in Palestine and in Belgium, helping them clean the house and banding. Those moments would not be there if it wasn't for being at home so much. Those moments made me get to know them better, their culture, their country and how they experience everything. Even though the communication was not always very clear, we could understand each other. I opened myself up and gave myself to their way of living. Because if, you don't open yourself and stick to your living habits, ideas and mentality of Europe or wherever you're from, you will miss out a lot, if not all.

karama volunteer

The whole experience made me question a lot in life, in the world, about my own personality, my friends, dreams, goals in life, habits and even religion. When I saw how the people live and interact with each other, it touched me very deep. Don't go hide yourself in your room when there's people visiting. Go sit with them, observe them, respect them. It's not that it's not allowed not to talk to visitors, but it's better if you don't too much in the beginning. Just go with the flow and it will all come automatically. In the beginning I didn't talk much to the people, I didn't want to force myself to them. Once they get to know you or just see you more than once, they will involve you in the conversation. Sometimes when you drink your cup of tea, it feels like you're away from the real problems. But when you open yourself and they see you respect them, they will tell you more about their own lives, how the Palestinian situation effected them. Then you realize that behind every person holding that cup of tea there's a whole story, a whole background.

The people I met are one by one just wonderful. They are very warm and very very generous. They will always ask if you're hungry or thirsty. They really took care of me. I was sick once and my host mother/sister got up in the middle of the night to make me some special herbal tea and waited by my bed to see if I could go back to sleep. The love and friendship I received is indescribable and I will always remember sitting at night with my host sister, drinking tea together, watching some Indian shows, massaging her head and talking about a lot of different stuff. One of the things I love so much in their culture is that the door is almost always open, people walk in and out, so you're almost always surrounded by people. People still come and ask for a cup of sugar or a lemon or some mint leaves. Eating is all together around the same plate. I love this family feeling and they really involved me in it. I will miss this, because in Belgium I feel we lost some important values. We think too individual and sometimes forget what is really important, like family and other people. Karama made this possible, they made sure I had a good host family and that I felt good with them. The staff of Karama will always check on your feelings and thoughts because they really care about their volunteers and are open to hear your opinion on a lot of things. I really appreciate this because I was the only volunteer for a while and it's nice to share your thoughts and feelings to someone. We sometimes went really deep with this, sharing visions on the Palestinian situation, on life and the world, thinking out loud together. The director of Karama is a very wise man with a lot of human knowledge and he made it possible for me to grow mentally, get to know my feelings and fears better. I learned a lot from him. He helped me in developing myself becoming a stronger person. He can be very direct I wasn't used to it, because in Belgium people are not, they are more fake with their feelings and will -how we say it in Belgium: 'talk around the pot' instead of getting to the point. Like with everything here, like everywhere you go, you have to open up yourself. Don't be afraid of the unknowing or the differences, challenge yourself.

The work in Karama was different every day. In the beginning I only did activities with the children. It's good to have a lot of ideas and energy. I always prepared things in the morning, but that didn't mean I would actually do it that day. I checked on the mood of the children and I think it's nice to think of stuff together. I think it's important to be flexible and don't force the children in to something but still in the same time stimulate them enough for new games, English lessons,.. Wherever you go and work with children, they will always test you in the beginning. I -although I still had to find my way- showed myself strict and self secure to them. Sometimes it was hard to find activities for all of them, because there can be children from 5 years old till 17. One of the nicest things I think was to see the children's change in behavior. For example some children could be a pain in the ass sometimes, but once they got to know me better and saw me more, they started to get really nice and we had so much more fun together. Besides that I also did some administrative work, which I liked because I could develop my writing skills and in the same time get to know Karama in a totally different way.

Beside working in Karama and living in Deheishe, I did a ten day travel with a Belgian group, organized by Karama. We went to see a lot of places in the West Bank. I couldn't imagine better guides for this than the director and his brother. We got to see the places through the eye of a Palestinian instead of just the touristic places. They answered all our questions and made us think about the things we saw and experienced. I advise this experience for everyone. It's really a way for opening new doors, opening yourself up for a new culture, new people, new visions. This experience, the people I met, the whole situation, their culture and traditions touched me very deep and I am very very grateful for the experience and very thankful for how the people took me in their lives and culture. Insha Allah, I will be back soon.

Lisa from France - April 2013
I am Lisa, a 22 years old girl from France. I am currently studying Politics and International Relations in France. I arrived in Palestine two weeks ago, in order to work in Karama organization. I was really interested in participating to an interesting and constructive project during my free time, as well as to learn more about Palestine culture and issues. That's how I started to look for a volunteering in Cisjordanie, and found Karama website. I have been immediately convinced by the projects of the organization.

lisa in karamaVolunteering in this organization is a perfect mixture between working in a constructive project and having the opportunity to discover by myself what could be a daily life under occupation. I arrived in Karama two weeks ago. After having spent a few days in my host family, I finally met the Karama team and the children of the center. I have to admit that first days were quite confusing, especially because you can sometimes feel little lost if you don't speak Arabic. But after one week, you find a way to interact and exchange with them, and each day it is getting better. Concerning my work in Karama, my time is divided between French translation of Karama website and French classes with different children groups.

So far my volunteering here is a great experience. I met people so warm and kindly, always happy to makes you discover their culture. Being in a host family is also a very good way to learn more about Palestinian culture. They really share with you so much, while the situation here still really complicated! Finally, I just can say that being in Deheishe camp is really rewarding, even much more than I expected. You have to be open-minded and flexible, but once you get that, your experience in Palestine can be wonderful.
Jess from the UK - January 2013

I have been back for 3 months now after spending 3 months volunteering with Karama, and it has taken me this long to be able to put into words what I experienced... It's still hard to know where to begin! so I shall write as it comes and hope that it makes sense and helps you to make an informed decision about whether to volunteer with Karama.

jess music in the library karama

As I'm sure you are aware, the situation in Palestine is hard and dangerous at times, and the week that I was due to arrive was at the time of the last war between Israel and Gaza, back in November 2012. I was feeling very nervous and vulnerable before I left, but I spoke to the director a few days before my flight was due to leave and he put my mind at ease, and rightly so, I felt totally safe and calm once I had arrived in Dehisha Camp. So the support I had from both the director and his brother started way before I arrived in Palestine. Whilst living there and working at Karama on a daily basis, I continued to feel their support; If I was feeling homesick or finding it challenging (at the beginning, it can be hard being away from loved ones in a totally new place) they were always there for me to talk to. On the odd occasion that I felt unwell and couldn't get into Karama, either one of them or their wonderful sister would be at my door with some delicious medicinal tea and a comforting smile... I never felt left alone and I was always made to feel welcome and part of the community. Being made to feel part of the community was the highlight of my whole volunteering experience... Being a lone westerner in a place that quite rightly feels some uneasiness about the west and our lack of compassion for their plight, I thought in the back of my head that I may feel slightly unwanted.. how wrong I was! The people of Palestine, and of Dehisha in particular made me feel wanted, respected and loved. Living with a family was THE best part about being there. It truly is the only way to experience real Palestinian and refugee life, sharing with them in moments of laughter, joy, sadness and sometimes distress. I felt my being there brought something new into their lives, through playing music and games with my younger brothers and sisters, and by helping by beautiful mother in cooking and cleaning around the house. I'm sure there have been some volunteers that have gone there and expected not to have to do any of these things, and fair enough, you don't have to, but out of respect and love for your family, I think that helping out when you can is a no-brainer.

I found the actual working days at Karama to be a lot of fun, I was teaching the children the guitar and melodica, and granted, at times, it did get very noisy! but hey, they are children, and that is what children do! As a volunteer, you are expected to be independent and to work out your own lesson plans, with help from the director, and as long as you are confident with working by yourself then you will have no problem. I was a little nervous about this before, but after a few weeks I soon found my inner strength and found it very rewarding in knowing that I can do something challenging on my own. The children were wonderful and very friendly, but at times I did find some of their behavior challenging. All you have to remember is that these children live a very different life from ourselves. They are controlled and oppressed from a very young age, they have most of their human rights robbed away from them, it is understandable if they can sometimes get a bit challenging. I found that as soon as I showed them that I was a friend, and a teacher, and that they could trust me then all those behaviours soon disappeared. I say this as I feel it is important, but as long as you go there remembering where you are and what these children have to live through then you will have absolutely no problem. they really were a fantastic bunch of kids to work with.

I was given the chance to visit some other places around Palestine like Bethlehem, Jericho, Nablus and Hebron...all of which blew my mind. seeing the devastating effects of the occupation first hand, especially in Hebron, is something that I will never forget. I am forever grateful to the Karama team for setting those important trips up for me, and especially to Luay, for acting as my guide. Both Yasser, the director, and his brother Luay were always very keen to answer my questions about life under Israeli occupation and the lessons I learned have mapped my thinking for life. I was also given Arabic lesson's, you do have to ask for them though as they are not part of the package, but I heartily recommend getting them. Learning even the basic Arabic is very important and it shows the residence and the children that you are making an effort and I know that doesn't go un-noticed. On a personal level, I had alot of fun in my lessons, my teacher was very kind, patient and helpful. and again, it was a real confidence boost to know that I can learn another language, when the last foreign language lessons I had were 7 years ago!

Just a few little things to end on... it is no problem being a vegetarian as long as your family knows before hand, and if like me you have a head of dreadlocks, be prepared for a lot of curious looks and questions! ;) The decision to volunteer at Karama was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has changed the way I see the world and her people, It has opened my eyes to a new kind of poverty, one not necessarily just of wealth, but of hope too. It has made me a stronger and more confident person, and taught me how to use my own personal Jihad...to fight for Peace, justice, empathy, compassion and love.

Tina from Sweden - April 2012
My name is Tina and I come from Sweden . I have been in Karama now for almost one month and I would like to share my experience so far. When I first arrived I did not really know what to expect. I do not think that it is possible to fully prepare for an experience like this. I have to admit that the beginning was not always easy. Being in a new place and not understanding the language is hard. It also takes some time to feel comfortable and at home in the host family. What I have noticed is that each day it becomes a little bit easier. You get to know people and start to make bonds, and some people here are truly wonderful and caring. For me I realized that if I want to be like one in the family I have to make an effort. This is really important. If you have an open mind and truly are interested in the community and the people here the experience will be better, this I believe.

The short time I have been here I feel that I have learnt so much. I admit that at times it is still not really easy, I'm far from home and way out of my comfort zone. But I do not regret coming here. The first week at Karama was quite overwhelming. The children are very curios and sometimes they can be a bit rough. But I tina karama children garden harvestfeel joy in playing with them and getting to know them better. The first week I mostly observed and it took me some time to start my own activities. When I have an activity for the children, inside or outside, I try to actively participate myself and not just supervise the children. I think they enjoy it more when I play with them instead of just watching. In three weeks I have learned some words in Arabic and the communication with the children works well. You will learn what is necessary to know when you are here every day. I have also done a trip organized by Karama to Nablus which was really great. Then I joined my host family on a daytrip and I was so happy that they asked me to join them. There are more trips to be made but because I'm here for a while there is no rush. I have also been in Bethlehem for a day, enjoying the city and walking around.

Finally, my experience so far is mostly positive. There is always room for improvement and sometimes it can be difficult to understand why things are going in a certain way. It can be a challenge and having this in mind when arriving is not wrong. But most important is to have an open mind and a willingness to learn and share experiences!
Reetta from Finland - March 2012
Can I introduce myself? My name is Reetta and until June I will be 25 years old. I am working at Karama for almost three weeks now. I flew all the way from Finland, after I had decided to take a break from my history teacher studies and see the world from another point of view. I had a reetta crafts childrencouple friends who have worked in Palestine before and they suggested me to go and experience the Palestinian life. I started to look for different volunteer options via internet and found Karama, which sounded as “my thing” right from the beginning.

And it hasn't changed since: the good impression I got when I arrived is still there and I've had an excellent start in the work and social life here. In three weeks I have learned so much and many prejudices and wrong expectations have already been crushed. Despite the good start, I feel that I am still learning how things are working here at Karama and that I haven't been able to give myself 100% to the program yet. Until now, we have been quite busy with two volunteers in the centre and there hasn't been much time to plan anything specific. I wish that after a couple of weeks, I will have even more special and scheduled activities planned for the kids. I already have a few ideas running in my mind...
Maria from Russia - January 2012
Actually, it was my first volunteering experience and I have nothing to compare, but this was great. First, I was attracted by the opportunity to learn more about Palestine and to finally visit this country. Second, I liked the programme's easy application procedure and appropriate participation fees:)

craftsAll my main worries were about work with children, as I had no experience and we didn't study it at our Trade University:) However, children left me only good memories about these happy days. Sometimes one can be upset by thinking that children cannot understand activities and may be one's idea was bad, but next day they can start surprisingly do the same by themselves without any help! And of course, it's great to study them something new, see their happy smiles when they want to share with you their new small but very important for them achievements. Further, such volunteering is the best way to open the country, to learn more about its people, their lives and traditions. Only there it's possible to understand that in fact life is much easier than we used to think in our "civilized" societies, that happiness is not in some up-to-date electronics or expensive clothes and a huge amount of strange rules and stereotypes that we create everyday, but in our open hearts, real communication, families, best friends who are realy glad to see you everyday. It was also so interesting to find similarities in our cultures and to study Arabic of course! Now I'm so proud of being the only person among my friends who's able to read arabic and... to write these "mysterious" symbols)

Finally, living in Palestinian family is something speial. I didn't feel myself as a guest or a stranger. I was a part of a big lovely family, at the home that was always full of life by children and guests. As for Palestinian food, I can discuss through the whole day this amazing food prepared by our host family's mother, who is, I strongly believe, the best cook! Now I often think about any possibility to come back for some longer time to see again these honest and open people, feel again this aroma of Palestinian coffee and spices, to spend the whole energy for creation some new ideas for activities with children in order to receive the main prize - their smiles.

 

teaching volunteerpaladia entrance karama

Aida Camp Impressions.
By Michael – Summer 2009

micheal profile pictureI’ve been to Aida twice now, most recently during the late afternoon last week and originally two weeks before. My first experience in Aida was earlier in the day and much longer in duration, offering me more detailed information about its history and landmarks. We saw the typical camp structures, inexpensive concrete with rough facades frequently pockmarked by bullets. Areas of recent repair or damage were pointed out to us and their stories shared. Israeli policy when entering Aida, and probably modus operandi for all the refugee camps, is to avoid walking down the tiny snaking streets and alleys. Rather, they often tunnel through buildings and homes with explosives charges, creating their own paths through the crowd of structures.Continue reading...

"I Saw Ramallah".
By Esther - December 2009

It is the first time I’ve left Bethlehem and seen the countryside by daylight. Under a clear sky and a bright sun, I saw stony hills and populations of old, wizened olive trees growing from a light brown soil. I sit with four other Karama volunteers and a guide in a taxi on a road to Ramallah. The Wall seems our constant companion to our left, with checkpoints appearing from time to time as a bothersome acquaintance. Walking through the streets of Ramallah, I begin soaking up the atmosphere. I want to get to know the city, to feel its uniqueness. Although it is Ramadan, the streets are busy and full with busy people and the tempting smell of falafel. The latter is inescapable.
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