Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Final Day in Photos

Esra'a, Hana and Natalie give their reflections on the week
Fatmeh courageously shares her story
Skills sharing: the Palestinian women learn to crochet
At the evening celebrations Hanin speaks about the differences between the lives of women in Britain and Palestine
The women demonstrate their dabkeh skills
Traditional Middle Eastern oud music 

Day Nine: Skills Sharing and International Women's Day Celebration

By Anna Amo (Bissan’s Buddy)

Saturday was the final full day for the Palestinian women in London and the last time we would be seeing them. The whole day was marked by a feeling of trying to get the most out of the little time left. The morning sessions was amazing, every girl present who had been involved in the week as a visitor or a buddy spoke about their experiences over the course of the week, things they had learnt, the way their thinking had changed as well as sharing their specific thoughts on the lives of Palestinian women in the context of the various themes they had been focusing on all week.

I was really moved by all of the presentations and I have tried to summarise some of the things people said and the issues they raised.

Dr Fadwa spoke about her experiences working with Cadfa and I loved to hear her talking about some of the first volunteers from Camden to visit the university in Abu Dis. The fact that she still remembered the names of the people who went out made me realise how strong the ties made on these trips can be.

Esra’a, Hanin and Decca gave a summary of a discussion that they had been having over the week about the similarities and differences between Palestinian and British Women. Esra’a argued that aside from the occupation, women themselves were extremely similar. She felt that in terms of lifestyle and aims in life the women from both countries were much the same. What she did feel was that the problems faced by Palestinian women stemmed from the occupation, disrupting their lives and making it harder for them to achieve their aims.

Hanin felt there were more differences between Palestinian and British women besides the occupation. She argued that culture was also a major factor. She described her experiences of being thought of as weaker and of her education being thought of as less necessary because of her gender. Hanin felt that the discrimination between men and women went beyond the circumstance of occupation and that the lack of infrastructure and facilities exacerbated this. Hanin asked how do British women get their strength when, she noted, so many live alone away from their families? She described how Palestinian women could find strength in facing the occupation.

Decca then went on to give us a British perspective. She reminded us that women are women wherever they are and that in all places they are struggling for equality. She drew attention to the fact that women are struggling for equality everywhere and in Britain the struggles may be different in nature but the fact of the struggle is familiar to all. Decca spoke instead about the double struggle that Palestinian women face both under occupation and within their society, trying to achieve recognition and be favoured equally with men. She ended by talking about the ways in which women, whatever they are struggling against, can come together to share methods and ways of fighting.

Many of the British women spoke of how, even though the Palestinians had been the visitors, it was the British women who were made to feel so welcome and invited into the lives and hearts of the Palestinian women. So much of the week was about sharing and it was felt the Palestinian women really opened themselves up to their new British friends, including them in their conversations, their traditions, their food, as well as their history and suffering. I definitely felt that the Palestinian women did a great job in not letting any of the British girls fall back on their comfortable tradition of distant politeness. Natalie said she felt that the weekend away in particular had felt like a really family-like time, perhaps because the women-only (and pyjama-attired) setting made everyone feel very relaxed.

Hanin spoke about what she had learnt about seeing our image in the eyes of others, she said she had learnt a lot over the course of the week about the gaps in the understanding of the people she had meant when it came to how they would see her from a far. She thought this was extremely useful as it allowed her to learn how she might need to present herself in the future to people in order to try to close the gap further. She said she even found this as a way to heal herself in a small way from the suffering of occupation.

Haya said the visit added to her as a Palestinian woman, that it motivated her to participate in more programmes like this one, and that she loved the art galleries that she visited in London that exhibited art by Palestinian women. She said that she had been surprised to find the suffering of Palestine represented in London in this way. She also talked about how difficult her life in Palestine had become since the building of the Separation Wall by Israel. She explained how her journey to school, once ten minutes, now took anything up from two hours as she had to travel through checkpoints. She said the latest development of having to pass through a terminal to get to her school meant that every trip was an extremely long, arduous and humiliating experience.

Nawal was the only Palestinian woman to admit to enjoying the British food and also spoke of her interest in the Islamic artefacts found at the British Museum. Nawal also had some difficult stories to tell about her personal suffering at the hands of the occupation. She explained the difficulties her sister had experienced when she tried to get to hospital to give birth and was held up for an hour. Nawal also told her own story about being extremely frustrated with soldiers at the checkpoint refusing to let her through to go to school and how she was arrested when she protested this and was handcuffed and taken to the police station for five hours until someone found out where she was.

Haya talked of how it wasn’t safe to stay out late as the soldiers can do anything - of how soldiers entered university dormitories to destroy property. Nawal felt that all social life in Palestine was affected as families were kept apart and given limited permission to see each other, if at all. Haya explained that Israel aimed to separate and so weaken Palestine further.

Fatmeh spoke about the plight of Palestinian prisoners detained by the Israelis. This was an extremely personal issue for her as two of her brothers have been subjected to long years in prison. She has not seen one of her brothers for the last decade as the Israeli’s claim they are not brother and sister and will not allow her to visit. One of Fatmeh’s sisters is also forbidden to visit as her name means “resistance”. A cousin of Fatmeh’s died in prison after 20 years but his body is still being held by the Israelis as he has not completed his sentence. Although Fatmeh spoke of her own suffering, including her nose being broken by the gun of an Israeli soldier on the night her brother was arrested, she made it clear that her story is one that is repeated over and over again for families in Palestine. Esra’a acknowledged that she has a cousin imprisoned under administrative detention and he has been held for four years, six months at a time without charges that keeps on recurring.

Samah, who comes from Jinin Camp, talked a little about her experience when Jenin was attacked in April 2002. Her family lost their home and two of her Uncles were killed. In comparison to her life in Palestine, Samah felt that it was amazing to see a different world, she said, “People here are alive.” She said she wanted to keep fighting to get a better future and continue life and become more self-confident.

Haya concluded the presentations by adding that she felt people in Palestine were both, “Fighting to live and living to fight.” She said she was happy to have come to the UK to tell everyone their stories and convey their strong personalities.

After the presentations everyone had lunch together and we had an opportunity for skills sharing and more talking. A lot of craft work went on with more knitting and embroidery and we talked a lot about the problems facing people and especially women in London and the rest of the UK and how some of the British women were using their skills to work on these issues or to protest about the problems.

The evening was a wonderful end to the week. Everybody gathered in the new Kentish Town Community Centre building. HAnin and Fatmeh moved everyone present with their powerful personal testaments to their lives, their hopes and suffering. There were fantastic performances from some very diverse musicians, there was even a tear or two when Dan Burne and Jo Mortimer performed “Beeswing”. We ended with dancing, more Dabka – Aisheh expertly leading the group - and lots of hugging in our final moments.

I really loved meeting the women from Palestine, and I am so happy to have had the chance to spend some time with them and listen to their stories.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Day Eight: Seeing the Sights

By Esra'a Shahin and Nadia Abu Raida

In the morning we came to the CADFA offices for 9am to work on our presentations until 12.30, when we took a bus to go to central London in order to start our tourist day. We got off the bus at Westminster, where we saw the houses of Parliament and Big Ben. It was amazing because there were a lot of cool things to look at and take pictures of. It was the first time that I saw where British Parliament is, and I had no idea that it was in the same building as Big Ben. After Big Ben we walked across Westminster Bridge and ate lunch, while we waited to get tickets to go to the London Eye. Then we went up in it and took pictures of places far away across London. From the London Eye we could see the Thames river, there were a lot of big tall buildings, including really old buildings like St Pauls.

We walked along South Bank and looked at all of the street performers. There were people painted different colours pretending to be statues, there were a group of men doing African dance and gymnastics and even some contortionism. There was a man and his daughter blowing giant soap bubbles and some bands playing music. After that we crossed the Thames again on a footbridge, and we went to see Trafalgar square. At the square there were a lot of people sitting around the big fountain and feeding the pigeons, and taking pictures of the statues. There were lots of statues in Trafalgar Square, including a really famous one of Nelson and old kings of England.

Then we went to Covent Garden, where there were more street performers, including a man swallowing a sword, and lots of antique stalls. We walked around the streets, got souvenirs to take home for our family and friends, and then headed to Southwark to meet Nandita to go to the Ambassadorial dinner. At the dinner, which was at a Turkish restaurant called Eve, we met a woman from the Palestinian Embassy called Haya and talked to her about our experiences in Palestine and in London. It was interesting to talk to her, because we talked about education and what we are studying, and I spoke to her about studying International Law and got some advice from her. We ate a lot and had a good time, and then Nandita and Ayesha took us back to our host homes.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Day Seven: Puppets and Primark

By Safaa Usmani (Samah's buddy, purple group)

Esra'a, Fatmeh, Samah and Safaa prepare their animated film
The puppet workshop this morning was great! Really interesting to learn a new skill and it seemed to follow on well from the puppet workshops from the weekend. I think most the girls used similar stories for their 20 second animation. Things were kind of messed up when we lost half of our group to the school next door, so we couldn’t finish everything. Me and Fatmeh worked on shooting the scenes and putting the animation together on the computer. Samah helped a bit at the end. Everyone got a bit agitated near the end of the session because we weren’t given a break and everyone was so hungry!

After the workshop we all went together to Oxford Street, all of the guests and the buddies, whereby everyone spent 3 hours in Primark (I couldn’t believe it), whilst I sat in Pret a Manger to do some coursework.

In the evening Fatmeh, Samah and Nadia attended a meal with Scott from the Newham-Jenin group, which was a great success.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Day Six: Visits to Schools and Camden Council

Today the women went in their different groups to visit schools and meet with Camden Councillors. Here are some reports of the day...

By Caitlin Proctor (Hanin's buddy, yellow group)

On Wednesday morning I met the girls at La Sainte Union School where Katy, their host dropped them off. We were met by Erica Malcomson, and showed around the school before heading to a year 7 PE lesson, where the girls taught a Dabkeh class. This was a fantastic morning which was enjoyed by everyone. The girls split the class into two, and taught them different Dabkeh steps to music which they had brought with them - they children really loved it! Towards the end of the session we brought all the children together into a big group dance. The teacher was extremely positive about this session and the girls left as the children were shouting ‘Please come back soon!’. Erica had prepared tea and cakes in the staff room during the break, which gave the girls the opportunity to meet and speak to a variety of teachers at the school.

We left the school around lunch time, and the girls headed off for a walk up Parliament Hill with another volunteer, at which point I sadly had to leave. I met up with them again at 8pm at KTCC on Greenwood place, where we ate all together and discussed how the trip was going so far, which was a positive and productive discussion.

By Safaa Usmani (Samah's buddy, purple group)

As the morning activity had been cancelled, me and my dad decided to act on an issue that had been raised at the meeting the night before- that women in Palestine don’t ride bikes. We took Samah and Fatmeh to the local square to teach them how to ride a bike. It turned out, however, that both of them already knew how! Lost in translation...

We then went to Tower Hamlets College for more question-and-answer style meetings. This was much more successful as the meeting had been well advertised and a particular ESOL class had prepared many interesting questions for Samah and Fatmeh. The students were also older and more sympathetic to the cause. I thought the questions were really interesting as well and I got myself involved in some stimulating discussions. The girls exchanged emails with many of the students and wanted to stay for longer to chat, but we had an impossibly tight schedule to keep to.

We were still half an hour late for Forest Gate Community School, so we missed the majority of a lesson we were supposed to speak in. However, the lesson had been pretty badly organised anyway, with nothing said as to what was expected of us. So the girls just gave their spiel. The students did have some surprisingly intelligent questions despite how young they were (13-14 yrs old). At the year 9 assembly, Samah said to me, “please don’t tell me it’s question and answer again.” It was.

When we finished at 2.30pm we went to Primark, which the girls had been looking forward to. From there I dropped them at the ice skating, which I hear they enjoyed, except Fatmeh fell over and bruised herself. It was lovely having two more quests, Isra’a and Nadia, staying with us, though difficult to get them all out the house in the morning!
The women prepare to skate

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Day Five: University and College Visits

Today the women went to universities and schools across London in their separate groups, where they met different lots of students, teachers and academics, gave presentations and even got people dancing! Here are some reports from the day...

By Caitlin Proctor (Hanin's buddy, yellow group)

On Tuesday morning Hanin, Saida and I had breakfast together at Katy’s house before heading to the Institute of Education. The girls worked on finalising their presentations for the day, before doing practice runs on me over coffee and cakes. We met with the rest of the group around half 11, and set up for the meeting at the IOE. The girls all gave excellent presentations, and there was some lively discussion around questions that people asked after the presentations. It would have been nice if there were more students in the audience- it was great that the people present were so engaged, but most of them were staff and I think the girls were a little disheartened not to have more student interest.

After lunch at the IOE, Hanin, Nadia, Hana and I were interviewed by Press TV at the IOE about the visit. Everyone really enjoyed this experience! Click here to watch the video. Our interview starts about ten minutes in.

After the interview we went to the British Museum - a visit which some of the girls really enjoyed and others found boring. After some more coffee and cake we took the girls to buy some souvenirs from shops around Bloomsbury. 
Saida and Hanin outside the Institute of Education
Our panel of speakers at the Institute of Education
Hanin and Caitlin being interviewed for Press TV
By Emily Danby (Saida's buddy, yellow group) 

In the evening, the girls headed to a vigil in support of Hana Shalabi, held outside of ULU, while I set up the evening event at SOAS. Even though the girls were tired from such a long day, they did a brilliant job at teaching the group some dabkeh. There was a great light-hearted atmosphere and everyone seemed genuinely interested in finding out more about the women's lives back in Abu Dis. It would have been great to attract a more diverse range of people- most were from Palestinian societies or had direct connections to the Middle East. Next time I'm involved in planning a student event, I'd like it to attract students from all backgrounds.

By Esra'a Shahin (Natalie's buddy, green group)

We woke up at 9am after spending the night at Annika’s house. We ate breakfast, which was bread chocolate spread and honey, then Fareeda came and took us to meet Hanna. Nadia was ill so Annika took her to the doctor and she didn’t come with us. We left the house at 10.30 and walked to the King’s Cross Station and waited there for Hanna. Then when she came we took a tour around St Pancras Station, then at 11.30 we reached the Institute of Education, where we met the Yellow team. Then Nadia came and after that we gave presentations about education in Palestine and refugees. Then we ate lunch provided by IoE- pizza- with the people who attended the presentation and had informal discussion of the presentations.

At 12.15 a woman came from a TV station and conducted interviews with Hanin, Nadia and their buddies, and the rest of us waited. After that we went to the British museum, looked around from 3.20 until 4.30, and then we rested in the gallery cafĂ© in the museum.  After that we when to the prisoner vigil at 5.30, which was organised to draw attention Hana’s Shalabi’s hunger strike, who is a Palestinian prisoner being held indefinitely in administrative detention without charge. She has been on hunger strike for 34 days, and we collected signatures for a petition that we will present to the European Union to pressure Israel to either formally charge her or release her. At the vigil we talked to the people who had come, and the people passing by, about Hana Shalabi and after that we had an amazing time talking to lots of amazing people. We left and went to SOAS and there we taught people dabkeh and ate Palestinian food and listened to Palestinian music, then we went back to our host’s house.

By Safaa Usmani (Samah's buddy, purple group)

I was really looking forward to visiting Stoke Newington School, as it is my old school. I told Samah and Fatmeh this, so they were asking me questions the night before about what the school looks like etc. Therefore, they went to SNS with some expectations- however, these expectations were greatly exceeded as the school had had a complete makeover! This was a great surprise for me as well. We were taken on a whirlwind tour of the school, visiting every department. Fatmeh and Samah were greatly impressed by the school’s facilities, especially the technology used, such as interactive whiteboards. It was interesting to hear the similarities and differences between this school and the girls’ experience of school. What surprised the students the most was the fact that there are usually 40-45 students in each class in Palestine, with only one teacher!

The girls really enjoyed visiting the school and thought it was beautiful. They did not, however, enjoy the walk between Stoke Newington and BSix College- I don’t think they’re used to walking far. BSix College wasn’t as much of a success- I don’t think the girls were very prepared for the Q and A session. They didn’t actually know what was expected of them at the college, but they managed to answer most questions asked. It would have been useful if we’d had an interpreter so that Fatmeh could express her opinion more.

In the late afternoon we went to New Look in Dalston, before the girls took part in a public talk at the local library. The turnout was good, with around 20 participants eager to hear Samah and Fatmeh’s stories. There was a good range of interest, including how the twinning of towns process works, what life was like specifically for women and, the most popular question of the week, how can we, in the UK, help Palestinians. By being aware of the situation was Samah’s most common answer.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Day Four: Seaside Adventures

By Emily Danby (Saida's buddy)

Monday- our time to leave the outdoor centre at Brockenhurst and venture out into the world! After everybody came together to clean and pack away, we all set off on a day trip to the seaside (almost) at Lymington. This would be a chance for the girls to see a traditional English town and get a taste of an England very different to that which they’ll be experiencing the rest of the week in London. For some of the women it was also the first time they had ever got to go to the sea, since it is so difficult for Palestinians to gain access to the coast in their home country!
The group at Lymington Harbor
After wandering the town and admiring the boats in the harbour, the British buddies decided it would be great if the Palestinians had a chance to taste a proper English cream tea- it seemed so fitting in this quaint little seaside town! But after quite a lot more wandering and settling down to our picnic, we decided the idea should go on the list of things to do later in the week. After lunch and a few games by the harbour we decided to make our way back through the town and visit the local museum, which had some interesting displays showing the sorts of industry and activities that local women have been involved in over the past few centuries. This sparked some interesting conversation, but some of the girls were more interested in doing some research of their own into the modern day interests of women in the town (i.e, they wanted to go shopping).

Cordu tries her hand at doing the washing the old-fashioned way
Esra'a at the museum
After exploring the high street clothes shops, we all went to get fish and chips and gathered on the cobbled steps to eat them- all very English! Then it was time to head back to the train station and go onward to London. After a surprisingly efficient meeting while waiting for the train, we boarded and I sat with Nawal on the journey back. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a little more about her life, and to practise my Arabic!

Group-meeting on the train
As soon as we arrived in London the rural calm of Brockenhurst seemed another world away. We were all very tired from our weekend’s activities and I made sure Hiya and Nawal were delivered safely home before heading home myself. It was a long and eventful day, and a great ending to a productive and enjoyable weekend.