From Bethlehem to Rwanda

Just after Christmas I started to feel restless. I was dissatisfied with how things were going with the youth group. Late last year we lost our youth house in Bethlehem (one of three premises) because we couldn’t afford the rent and upkeep, and now the youth have to squash themselves into what was originally an office and practically sit on each other’s laps when they want to meet. I decided that they needed something to perk them up a bit. A field trip seemed in order.

In November 2012 members of the youth group will travel to Kigali to take part in the Pilgrimage of Trust, a peace gathering organised by the Taizé community. It will bring together young people from across the world who have been affected by war and violence. They will spend two weeks together, living very simply with local families who began their own search for peace in the terrible aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Recalling past meetings, especially the one held in former Yugoslavia, an organiser wrote, “Sometimes families have welcomed young people from a country that was at war with them a few years ago. Hospitality lived in great simplicity breaks down many barriers and prejudice.”

I knew instinctively that this would interest the older members of our youth group, especially when I saw the pilgrimage’s motto: “Walk forward on your way, because it exists only by your walking.” These teenagers and university students grew up with bombs and blood and curfew, and above all a crippling sense of inertia, an inability to do anything to change the situation. During the Intifada years they would huddle under tables and in cupboards, knowing that they might not be alive by evening. Physically they all emerged unscathed, but psychologically, it’s another story. It is not always easy for them to believe that they can change their lives, or even that they have a right to a better life at all. Every day the occupation teaches them that they don’t. It would be a terrific thing for them to meet young people from other countries who have had similar experiences, in an environment that is designed to be gentle and accepting. One of the Taizé brothers who organises the pilgrimage calls it ‘a search for trust’.

Was it feasible? I got a calculator and a notepad and worked out the rough costs. Hm, with good fundraising we should be able to do it. I looked at the itinerary. As Palestinians from the Occupied Territories aren’t allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv, we would have to get the bus into Jordan, fly from Queen Alia Airport to Cairo, and go from there to Kigali. I checked the safety records of the various African carriers and ticked the ones that are likely to actually deliver us to Kigali in one piece and not crash into dense Congolese jungle. Then I worked out the journey time. In total this convoluted trip will take about fifty-two hours. Tricky, but nowhere nearly as tricky as getting the youth five miles down the road to Jerusalem.

My next step was to convince my colleagues that they want to entrust the youth to my care for two weeks and let us gallivant to Rwanda. I raised the issue with some trepidation. Something was telling me that they might not be wildly enthusiastic. I decided that Toine was likely to be the most receptive person (meaning he would at least give a doubtful, “Let us think about this,” before tactfully rejecting the plan) and I broached it with him.

“Toine, I think it would be good for the youth group to have a field trip.”

“Oh? Yes, it has been a long while since they went anywhere. I think last time was Jericho. Did you have anything in mind?”

“Well, there is going to be a peace meeting this year with a theme of trust and non-violence and so on, and we are very into that sort of thing, so I thought it would be good for us to go. The meeting itself is only five days long, but to get to know each other and the host families we have to meet the week before it begins in erm, Rwanda and – ”

“Oh, that sounds great! Yes!”

I was stunned. He wasn’t meant to say that. He was meant to start pointing out that I cannot navigate reliably between Bethlehem and South Mount Hebron, and to ask how I can be expected to get the youth group from Matbasseh Street to Kigali and back again without losing half of them en route. But he was already making plans. “They could do a creative project about their experiences when they come home, maybe make a few short films. But first we must be sure that we have the money to make this feasible. Once we have raised enough, we will decide on the exact number who can go.”

Members of the Arab Educational Institute's youth group in Bethlehem

Members of the AEI youth group.

After some discussion we agreed that we would like to take at least ten young people. It will cost roughly £950 per participant ($1500/6000 NIS). I did have the bright idea of approaching Im Tirzu for sponsorship, as I was sure that they would be delighted to see a planeload of Palestinian youth heading for sub-Saharan Africa – they would probably fund the trip for the whole of Bethlehem municipality if we asked nicely. But I’m pretty sure that their generosity would stop at a return ticket, which is why I’m also putting this fundraising appeal on my blog.

If you belong to a school, church, or other community group that might be interested in sponsoring a participant, please let me know. If you would like to donate something just as an individual, you can do so via PayPal. If you have fundraising ideas for us, please share in the comments! :) It’s a big undertaking, but I’m pretty confident we’ll manage it.

After all, it’s not as if we’re trying to get to Jerusalem.

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One thought on “From Bethlehem to Rwanda

  1. Pingback: Abraham’s Tent | Bethlehem Blogger

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