Ahdaf students: more than an inspiration

Posted on 10 July 2012

After our visit to Zakaria, we’d organised to meet with the students supported by Ahdaf . We wanted to hear about their work over the past year and discuss with them future plans for Ahdaf. The students lie at the heart of Ahdaf and we have always given them as much autonomy and control as is practical.

Sometimes this means we are putting a great deal of trust in them, and we cannot be sure that they are putting in the work and effort that they say they are. We needn’t have worry on that score! As each student told us about their projects and the work they’ve been doing, I was humbled by their hard work, commitment and ideas. Far from taking advantage of our rather hands-off approach in managing or overseeing them, they have exceeded any expectations we may have had.

Ahdaf pays students’ tuition fees at university, enabling talented young people from poor background to access higher education. In return, each student must conduct some sort of voluntary project in their community. There are a number of reasons why we decided to do this. Often, in Palestine, money is thrown in and, in some people, you can see a culture of dependency and expectation on others to provide something for nothing. That’s what aid money does, and it’s not good. Also, we want young people to realise the enormous potential they have in being able to shape and change their own communities.

The projects they’ve been working on and delivering are fantastic and have made real change in some areas. For example, one student volunteered in a centre for disabled people. She realised that there were many more disabled people who were not accessing the services, so she started to visit people in their homes. She helped them but she also listened to them. She found that their needs were not being adequately met by the community, nor did they have their own voice in the community.

She established a group of disabled people and with some other volunteers and they’ve held demonstrations to demand rights for disabled people, actively campaigning locally to achieve political change. And they had success, getting the local authority to listen to what disabled people want themselves. But it has not all been a success. They approached the PA for funds for a summer camp. They wanted to bring mothers and young disabled children together in a fun environment for a few weeks in the summer, to get them out of their usual routine, more often than not being stuck at home and isolated. They were refused funding.

Another student is from Yatta, he is training to be  a nurse. He went to the local medical centre and has established what we would call a minor injuries clinic. When people come in with non-urgent injuries, they used to wait to see the doctor, who would then treat them. Now, he provides triage and first aid to patients which enables the doctors to deal with the more urgent cases. It also means those with minor injuries are seen much quicker as well.

The students have also organised collectively and done a project together. They have collected many Palestinian recipes and the stories behind these recipes: essentially a history of Palestine through food. For our part, we have promised the students that we will help set up a website to get all this material published and accessible online.

I’ll write more about the other projects that they have been doing in the next few weeks. Needless to say, we’re extremely proud of their achievements and couldn’t have wished for better outcomes. Running Ahdaf isn’t easy. We pay no one, so it’s basically the three of us doing what we can, when we can, the best way we can. If anyone is interested in finding out more, do get in touch.

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