Human Rights Center Fellows: dispatch from the field

Children at the Dar Al-Fanon community center in the Askar Qadim refugee camp in the West Bank.
Children at a community center within a West Bank refugee camp.

West Bank children: Living in the balance between trauma and joy

A reflection from Thanh Mai, a 2016 Human Rights Center Fellow, who is working with children at a refugee camp in the West Bank. 

The Palestinians here do not own the sky. They cannot build or have anything higher than 60 meters in the air. The center is working on building and installing a flag pole that is 55 meters high, which is taller than the wall, and hoisting a huge 30 by 20 meter Palestinian flag so that it will be visible across the country. This was astounding to me because it means so much to them.

The children especially love taking photos on my phone and ask to borrow it to watch YouTube videos. They showed me a video of a wave pool at a water park, and asked if I had ever been to one. I said that I had and they got very excited, and I asked why they liked it so much and they said that it was because it was like the ocean. They got even more excited and asked me if I had ever been to the ocean, and I said yes, I live by the ocean and go swimming all the time. They said that it was their dream to see the ocean—not even go in it, just see it.

Spending time with the children in the summer camp has been very impactful since there is a general balance between the trauma and the pure joy that they experience as children. They don’t tell sad stories about their home life or cry often. They play and are more conscientious and kind than many of the children that I have met in the United States. Little stories will come out here and there, but they are just so happy to have these normal activities. They participate in traditional dance, drama, arts and crafts, and music; their abilities to process and vocalize their experiences surpassed my expectations. The first thing they wanted to draw was the Palestinian flag. The terms they asked for in English were all related to explaining the occupation and living near the wall. They love their families and they love each other, and as they grow older they come to understand more and more about how their situation is not shared by many other people in the world.