January 2015 – A New Dawn in the Negev welcomes Cody Merrick of San Antonio, Texas as our new fellow this winter.

Cody is a third year student of Global Affairs at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He joins us as a Masa Bedouin Coexistence Fellow.

During his volunteering, Cody will be learning Hebrew and Arabic, volunteering at the Al Salam Elementary School in Rahat, and running the afterschool English program at the Al Najak High School. He will also participate in trips around Israel and the Negev, and work on a project of personal interest.

You can follow Cody on his blog, Texas to the Negev.

Cody, we’re glad you are here. Welcome aboard (or should we say, abroad).

It’s been some time since the last blog post and after all the Jewish holidays it seems like a lot of things that has been in the stage of planning is now really happening. This is of course exiting but in the same time scary and challenging. I’m also starting to see the end of my internship which is very sad and not something that I look forward to. More than half the time has passed, but I’m sure that the coming weeks will be full of new experience as well as the feeling of having accomplished a lot of things and that I will use all the skills that I’ve learned so far.

There has been lots of challenges during the past weeks.  I’ve learned that to go from thinking and planning a project to actually doing it is so hard and takes so much time and reacquires tons of work. I remember that I was told in some course in the university in Lund that in building up new projects, policies, strategies and so on you have to expect all the bad things that theoretically could happen to actually happen. Therefore I understand the meaning of patience and let things take some time. I’m also starting to get a grip of what Israeli social work is and what it really means to be a social worker here. It’s a lot of found raising, writing proposals, thinking about new projects and creating partnership. It’s fun but can be frustrating and it doesn’t work out every time. So again, patience and not giving up is so important from what I’ve learned.

One thing that I have been looking forward to so much is to start the After school program, and now it’s finally happening. Tomorrow we are having our first meeting with the group and I am so exited. Even though I learn so much from working with the kids in the elementary school this is gonna be different and I’m going to get a new perspective on being a teenager in Rahat. Because there is no services for the youth in the community I hope that the students that will join the program will feel like they are exposed to new ideas, hobbies, perspectives and feel like their thoughts and opinion is important too. I’m also very happy to run it together with Danielle who has so many great ideas and I’m sure we will have a lot of fun.

We got to host the overseas students from a human rights course in Ben Gurion University to talk about the issues that exists and how the A New Dawn is working with these problems. It was a great meeting, and I got to talk about how I experienced working in the school, what the reactions has been and what I have learned. I think the most interesting part was to share my thoughts with other people with a outside perspective. I’ve noticed that I see things with my European glasses as well as they do. They asked questions about things that has become so natural to me, but that I remember that I was reacting to in the beginning. The topics of the discussion was stigma, the right to your identity and somehow also urbanization. It made me think a lot about the kids in the school and how fast their society has been changing. I also got the feeling that what I do is so little compared to the whole picture. I guess I can see this as a lesson being a social worker. I will probably always have the feeling that I could do more.

On the opposite I look back at the past months and I’m thinking about all these moments when I do something that is so simple to me, like singing head shoulders knees and toes with the first graders and they are unbelievably exited about it. I also started to practice a small dance show with groups of students. They love it and that kind of activity is so new to them. That’s the positive and amazing things that makes me feel like the cultural exchange that I bring by being there is making a difference for these kids.

Finally the Green Committee from Al Salam also got to preform the song we have been practicing with them called I am the Earth. It was a big event in Rahat and the beginning of a science program runned by people working with the Dead Sea. The kids were great! They preformed the song and a play about astronomy. Parents, teachers and students from three schools in Rahat were there. I hope that this kind of things will continue and develop in the community.

These are small glimpses of what is going on right now, but there are so much more happening. I know for sure that the coming weeks will be very busy, meaningful and evolving.

Shared with permission from Olivia’s blog: Volunteering with A New Dawn in the Negev.

November 2, 2014: Think you know what it means to volunteer in the Bedouin community in Israel? Here’s a reality check from Olivia. (Hint: it may not be what you think – keep reading.) 

Beer Sheva Language Exchange: First Meeting

The past week has been filled with different new projects. I hosted my first Beer Sheva language exchange meeting last Monday. It was something I was very nervous about at first. Probably more than the first day of my internship. When I look back at it I’m not sure why I was so worried about it. Maybe it was because I’m starting to feel more confident working in the school and for the language exchange I was suddenly out of my comfort zone again.

Anyways, as soon as I sat down at Golda’s Bar, it was ok. When people arrived and seemed so laid back and friendly, I realized that this is something people do for fun and it’s not such a big deal. More than 30 people came and it all went really well! We had tables for Hebrew, English and Spanish. Tomorrow, at the next meeting there will probably be even more languages, I hope!

Helping Out the Green Committee With Their Upcoming PerformanceThe aim of me running these meetings is to get some experience and ideas to do the same thing in Rahat. It’s probably going to be very different from the meetings in Beer Sheva, but that’s also why I really want to do it. Every week some teachers are asking me about it and they are looking forward to come to the first meeting. For the past two weeks I’ve done some research asking for people´s opinion on how, where and when to do the exchange. The feedback and ideas I got from people in the school has been positive and very useful.

The science teacher at the Al Salam Elementary School in Rahat asked me to come to help some students to practice for a performance for members of different companies conducting research in the Dead Sea. It’s the first year of a project like this and the goal is to inspire students from an early age to open their eyes for nature science, biology and global thinking.

The participants are teachers and students from three elementary schools in Rahat. One part of the performance is the song “I am the Earth” that I helped teaching the Green Committee last week. We also made choreography and decorations. The exact date for the performance hasn’t been decided yet but I’m looking forward!

Teaching Update

When it comes to the teaching things are going well. I’ve noticed that the kids love to do worksheets for English grammar. This was a bit surprising for me to see, since I remember how I used to dislike these kind of assignments in their age. In the same time it’s fantastic to see how much they love learning English.

Last week I started arranging an English corner in the library, that now has been cleared from a lot of things that were there when I first came to the Al Salam Elementary School. The teachers and the headmaster gives me lots of freedom to do as I wish with the space, which feels great.

I have found out so far that it takes some time just to find the right person to ask to, for example, move the copy machine or print things in color. Everyone is very helpful, but also very busy with their regular duties. I’m hoping to get a lot done this week and then continue to built it gradually by putting more things on the walls and also by letting the kids help out decorating. I will add a picture in my next post.

The Realities of Volunteering in the Bedouin Community in Rahat

Something that I have started to react more to lately is people response when I say that I’m volunteering in Rahat. The questions or sentences that follows is mostly “Be careful over there!”, “Really… why?”, “Wow, that must be very hard…” or “How do you even manage to get to Rahat?” On one hand I think it’s great that they are curious and ask me about my internship. On the other hand it’s making me a bit confused and upset to hear what a they think and know, but mostly doesn’t know about it.

It’s hard to understand them since I love going there every day. I guess what they hear and what I see is not the same things. That makes me very sad but more importantly motivated to start the afterschool English program and the Rahat Language Exchange. Just to make people encounter with the Rahat that I know of.

For example: every day when I’m waiting for the bus there is always some kids keeping me company. We speak a bit but mostly they just want to sit down and smile at me or maybe make sure that I get with the bus. It’s a nice time of the day. It has also become a routine that the bus driver makes sure that if I ever need help I can feel free to ask him, and then he wishes me a wonderful day.

And all of the sudden someone in the school serves me za’atar – lunch on a break.

Even though I can see that there are issues in Rahat as a city it’s a very small piece of my whole experience working there so far. And overall, I have never been in a place where everyone is so caring and hospitable. This is what I wish that everyone knew about Rahat.

Shared with permission from Olivia’s Blog: Volunteering with A New Dawn in the Negev.