Not long after beginning to spend time in New Askar I discovered that the camp already has a group of heroes.
When I first met Abu Jihad, we sat in a small office on the ground floor of the Social Development Center (مركز التطوير المجتمعي) building in the middle of New Askar refugee camp. Amjad, known as Abu Jihad, is the director of the Center, an organization created by and for New Askar residents in order to provide a space and programming for their kids to express themselves through after-school activities in a stable and safe environment. Every day during the summer the same small group of adults and recent young graduates are at the center, hanging out with the kids, smiling and laughing with them, and hosting activities to make sure they have something fun to do together all summer long. It is their energy, selflessness, and crazy amounts of joy that continue to inspire me on the mission of LEAD Palestine.
Over juice that day, Abu Jihad shared with me the history of the Center, and immediately while hearing it my jaw dropped. Amjad spent 5 years in Israeli prison, imprisoned for the first time when he was just 15. "We made our jails like university," was the first thing he told me when I asked what that time was like. This man, who is fluent in both English and French and now the director of the organization, gained the majority of his education through the daily lectures and reading that these young Palestinians prepared while they were in jail. After their release, he and a group of his friends got together and decided they needed a better way to resist the occupation–they would give the kids of their community a way towards education and hope, and this would become their way to freedom. So together they created the Social Development Center for New Askar, and today the program hosts dance lessons, math and science classes, a computer lab, and more. “Before this, there were no schools, no programming, nothing,” Abu Jihad remembers. “The kids went without anything but street education.” He's a serious hero.
I won’t share the whole story just yet, because I want to give Abu Jihad a chance to share his full story in a video we will be publishing about the summer at the conclusion of camp. Trust me, it’s a story worth hearing. I can’t wait for you all to hear it.
The Social Development Center is generously providing us the space for our leadership camp programming that will be happening over the course of five days, August 13th-17th. We have also identified a real need for and opportunity to host a tutoring program within the Center, which we are currently in the process of developing with university students from around Nablus City. I am becoming more and more deeply convicted about the extraordinary need to put these incredible people–those already doing miracle work here in New Askar– at the core of LEAD’s development, involve them in the process as much as possible, and welcome them as an important and necessary part of our LEAD family. These are the heroes of New Askar. We are overwhelmingly grateful for their hospitality and the way they have welcomed us, and are honored to work with them. I can’t wait to share their stories.
-Hannah, July 2017