By: Hasan Tbaileh 

I first heard about LEAD Palestine three months ago. My friend sent me the application where they stated they needed counselors. I had spare time in the summer and I figured, “why not?” When I got on their website and started reading about their mission, aims, and their willingness to go the extra mile, I thought that there must be a catch. However, I liked the idea, applied, and got an appointment for an online interview. I was a bit nervous because I had never done an online interview before. 

The interview started and RJ and Hannah began by talking about themselves and their project. I had mixed feelings at the time. I could tell they were really passionate about this project and that they had tremendous amount of love for Palestine, but I wanted to find something wrong— an extra catch. Many people come here while having A LOT of hidden intentions, so I figured that prudence was highly necessary. I started asking questions to discover the catch (which I thought must exist), but they were so confident and see-through. They laid it all out on the table with a passion I had never seen before. By the end of that 30-minute interview, I was pumped and really wanted to be a part of this. sometimes you just don't open up about issues you are facing because you feel that no one would be interested. This was different though! The more we talked, the more I felt that we had a common interest. We are all DYING to change the situation here for the better. After we were finished, I started praying that I would get the counselor position. I knew I had something to give and that it was here, doing this with these guys!  A week later, I got my acceptance email. 

Team dinner finally arrived and at last I could meet everyone. I already knew Ahmad and Muaz, as they were my friends, but I was curious to meet Majd, Bayan, and Fatima too. I also met Ashraf, who was a new addition to our team. From the get-go, everything was friendly and just felt right. 10 minutes into the dinner, RJ was laughing and said “Hasan is gonna be our class clown from now on!” That shattered the ice and smiles were thrown everywhere.  You could easily see that everyone was being themselves and simply having fun. Team chemistry? CHECK! This was on July 28th, and training didn’t begin until August 7th. I was busy with my final exams at the time and didn’t get to put much more thought about what would happen next. 

Finally, August 7th was here. We begin training at 10AM. We are going through with this, Yaaayyy! The thing I loved most about training so much is that it was unorthodox. The training of a summer camp counselor, from my experience, is normally boring. Focusing on discipline, curriculum, safety, and just controlling the kids. However, our training was different in a way I really liked. We basically ran through every activity the children would do in the camp together. We literally did everything the kids would do, whether a simple discussion or a very challenging game such as marshmallow challenge-- and no this isn't chubby bunny, if you are wondering (I wished it was, though). 

That week allowed us to think and behave as kids. We were running around, yelling, and getting really excited to win or complete the task. As counselors, we could see how things were going to go. We could tell which activity was going to be successful and which ones might be boring or misunderstood. This evaluation was only possible due to the reflection period we did at the end of each day. I honestly hated journaling, but I must admit that it was an effective way to go through the curriculum, review our ups and downs, and state how we felt about the day and our teammates. Nothing was perfect, as we naturally had some issues and differences in opinions. But we were allowed flexibility. I remember during the fourth day of training, I was so nervous about mentorship and whether the kids would accept us. During that day's reflection, we were sitting in a circle with our beloved planning board just thinking about possible problems and what could go wrong. I let it all out. I was scared and anxious because I felt that this would be the most challenging aspect of our program. I may have been over thinking, but it was helpful to vent. Everyone started brainstorming and suggesting solutions to everything I could find wrong. They were the perfect support system I needed back then (and yes you are more than a support system guys, don't be sensitive). On our last training day, we signed our contracts, prayed, and chanted our motto for the week (ASKAR ASKAR ASKAR HEEEY!). This was when we felt the weight of the responsibility ahead. Trial time was done; now it's the real deal. Was I excited? Was I worried? I had no idea exactly what to feel at the time, but these two emotions were definitely involved.

Finally, Day 1, August 13th, arrived. I honestly can't remember a day before where I had to wake up at 6AM and wasn't cursing. But I couldn't sleep! And how could I? All I could think of is what's going to happen?  Am I going be good enough? Am I going to be accepted by the kids? Endless thoughts roamed my mind as I showered, put my clothes on, and got on my way. I swear I am not making this up, but I started walking in my street in a desperate attempt to find a taxi at 7:30AM with a HUGE smile on my face. If you saw me, you would have said "that man has lost it!"  I arrived and everyone was smiling too. I remember thinking to myself "Alhamdulillah, I am not only crazy one here!" 

We began with some icebreakers and then went through the curriculum. We wanted to define leadership and see it from the kids' own perspective. That was all to set the tone for our camp because this is our main goal, building leaders. Then it was time for reflection. To be honest, I wasn't very happy with our first day. But I guess I judged myself too harshly because RJ and Hannah were really happy, saying stuff like, "You nailed it!" I thought they were just being nice, to be honest. Being an over-thinker, I had to go through the day in my head and make notes. 

We went on. Day two was good and it was the day I was overtaken by my emotions. Who am I? Growing up, you desperately want an answer for this. These thoughts came back to me on Day 2. I remember letting everyone on my team reflect before me with a grin that never left my face. Throughout the day I was emotional and really wanted the kids to be sincere and honest. I wanted them to open up and just realize how important and unique they really are. In a way, I succeeded as I had a girl in my group who was an absolute ROCK STAR. She understood the identity masks perfectly and gave it all she had. I urged her to talk in front of the group and I was shocked by how well she expressed herself. She had big dreams and was so passionate explaining what she wants in life. I was looking at her with wide-open pupils when she started crying. I remember running for a tissue while holding my own tears. This is what we came for. She was a star and I was staring in amazement to the beauty and glamour in her words and character. No matter how many lows we had, that moment made me forget everything, all the negatives, go home smiling and just lay in bed thinking about how proud I was. 

Another night of poor sleep kicked off Day 3. In my opinion, this was the peak of my week! We had a lot of setbacks and even more adjustments to make. I was furious! We reflected on the roof and I spent like 20 minutes just yelling about every lousy thing we had done. The result? No voice for Hasan. RJ, Hannah, and Ashraf were trying to convince us we were good. It never worked, though. We had a lot of disagreements and fights and most of us got home still angry. Dedication was definitely the theme of Day 4. It's like we went on a magical sleep or something. We put everything behind us and kicked it off with huge smiles and an even bigger enthusiasm. To me, that's when I thanked God for the team I had. I saw leadership in each and every single one of us, and it showed that everyone wanted the camp to succeed. Unmet needs? Too many to even count. We wanted the kids to cut priorities and figure out what they want to change. We wanted them to make a decision of what changes were vital for their community. The kids addressed this task with great honesty and hard work, which made me think we were ready for Day 5. 

It's time! Day 5 was here. Thirty smiles that gave us the right to brag about what we did. They were stars and their limit was the sky. It's like they were already at the next step. They wanted to change their situation and had everything they needed to do so, starting with enthusiasm and ending with hope. As Tim Robbins said in The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things!" Ever since I first watched that movie, that line has been glued to the back of my head. But I could never truly visualize it until I saw all the kids' smiles, which came from the bottom of their hearts. The end of Day 5 was the perfect visual image of that Hope.