Building Bridges for Palestinian Youth

Euphrates interviewed Tareq AlTamimi, the Founder of "Volunteering for Peace". Tareq and his organization are also a Euphrates Chapter and have enriched our community of Chapters. Read on to learn about the amazing results of his work with Palestinian youth.Interviewer: Hello Tareq! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Would you please share a bit about your work in peacebuilding?Tareq: “Yes, I founded Volunteering for Peace in 2005 to build a bridge for Palestinian youth. We [focus] on peace building and nonviolence education. I also serve as the Vice President of United Religions Initiative (URI), [which] aims to end violence associated specifically with faith, and [works to] build peace across faiths. URI is based in San Francisco, but it works across the world, and we have strong regional engagement.My work focuses on training and capacity building in nonviolence education. I also provide human rights training for youth.In Palestine, where conflict is something you touch daily, [my goal] is to give courage and hope to Palestinian youth. This is the most important thing.”Interviewer: What inspires you to do what you are doing?Tareq: “I lived one of the worst lives a youth can live in this world.My mother told me when I was a young child, she took me over to look out the window. But it was a time of curfew. Teargas bombs were being used, and the soldiers outside shouted at my mother to leave the balcony and go inside. Even as a child I wasn’t able to see the outside world.[The conflict] affected even the most normal aspects of my childhood.From that time until I was 18, I never had normal childhood experiences. I never [saw] the ocean, [went on] rollercoasters… I was stuck at home. We could only play indoor games and do activities inside. My life was restricted. It wasn’t [safe] to play outside.In university, my dream became to live a better life than I had lived, and provide others with opportunities for a better life. I started to work on Volunteering for Peace.”Interviewer: Please tell us more about Volunteering for Peace.Tareq: “Through one of our programs, “Sharing Perspectives,” we partner with Amsterdam University to [foster] exchanges between Palestinian and Dutch youth. At home, Palestinian youth are limited in their [freedom of] movement. We offer them the opportunity to travel abroad, to see another part of the world, and to share Palestine with the world outside.People here need to see something different. They want to be away from the conflict, to be able to discuss and process the conflict. Its hard for them to learn about nonviolence in Bethlehem, when there is violence happening nearby in Hebron.  They need to be separated from [the reality of] the conflict.We provide different programs all around the world for students to have exchange experiences.  For the Palestinian students, who have never been outside their own city, it is a cultural shock. But it is also a transformative experience.”Interviewer: Can you share with us an example of the impact of these programs?Tareq: “Sure. One of our Palestinian students [initially] refused to participate in the program. Her family wouldn’t let her go to Amsterdam unless she was accompanied by a family member.I visited her home, and met her family. They were very conservative, and the student would not even shake hands with a man. I finally convinced the family to allow [her] to participate. During the trip, we visit[ed] a mosque in Amsterdam. The imam shook hands with every student, including the female students. Afterwards, this [particular] student questioned the imam about it. She wanted to know how he could shake hands with foreign women. He explained to her that [there is a] very big difference between customs and religion.  This same student, when she first arrived in Amsterdam, wouldn’t eat for two days. She was shocked by even the food.[Fast forward to] two years later, she invited me for a meeting. When we met, she shook my hand and told me [she had gotten] a scholarship to go to graduate school in Jordan. One year after, I met her while I was traveling in Jordan. She has become an open-minded, professor at the university there. [The program] changed her life.Another example, we took twenty Palestinian students to Greece. They were ten to fifteen years old, and were hosted by local families. We took them to an amusement park to play for two hours.  The children stayed [for] twelve hours. They didn’t want to leave!You see, here [in Palestine] you need a permit to go to the sea, so children can’t go to the sea. Now, it’s a bit easier to go to the Dead Sea, but in the past [that] was also banned. They miss [out on] all of the “normal” things that children usually get to do. Through these programs, Palestinian youth are no longer cut off from the world.”Interviewer: Thank you very much, Tareq, for sharing your important work with us! View this video to learn more about the “Sharing Perspectives” exchange experience.

Image credits: Volunteering for Peace