The Wall and Efficacy
Last Saturday, I met with a few friends in the Old City for brunch. Hopped up on Arabic coffee and delicious salads, we shared our respective lives. They were interning at a research NGO in Haifa for the summer and I have lived in Nablus now for over a year. The conversation slipped in and out of lessons past, stories told, politics and love both revisited, and work—typical brunch talk for a group of women in their mid to late twenties. Mostly, the conversation revolved around how the latter influences the former in a constant juggling act of our personal and professional lives. About an hour into brunch, one of my friends threw her hands up in the air, anticipating the weight of her statement, and said, “I just want to take a survey of every NGO/nonprofit worker in Israel and Palestine. I bet you none of them would describe their work as effective.” Silence lingered for a few minutes after her statement. We sipped our coffee. It was true--everyone has thought this. We file press releases hoping someone will cover our announcement. We write proposals reaching out for someone to hear our call to action. We provide children with safe spaces to assuage their trauma. We envision a better world for the people of this region and all those who engage with it. At the same time, we watch homes demolished in East Jerusalem, television programming with questionably racist commercials and children board buses that will take them back to unsafe homes. We work amidst a protracted conflict with diligence, yet all too often waning optimism. We come up against a solid wall.
The next day, my friends came by the TYO Center. I greeted them at the door and offered them a tour of our facilities. We observed two of the morning program classes: 4- and 5- year old children engrossed in the imagination stations that make up the corners of their holistic classrooms. In one corner, a falafel stand with one child pretending to make falafel and two others playing the salivating customers; in another corner, three children were meticulously building Lego structures, carefully placing each piece where they envision it in their minds. We opened the adjacent door, peering into the TYO computer lab—a group of twenty women were engaged in a computer literacy course. Later on in our tour we found another group of twenty women upstairs partaking in an aerobics class. We climbed the stairs to find a second floor of activity as children busied themselves in the art, science and sports classes provided by some of our summer interns.
We had coffee on the top floor, chatted a bit more and said our goodbyes. On our walk down to the exit, we saw that two of the interns had combined their classes to play with the parachute in the atrium. Laughter, shouts and the rustling of a parachute echoed through the big hall.
Recently, we have had a lot of visitors in Nablus. Thus, it was no surprise when later that day one of the interns asked me to speak to two of her visiting friends. I answered their questions on the beginnings of the organization, the current program and our hopes for the future. I clarified information about the situation in Nablus itself. Once again silence lingered over the conversation. I assured them that this city, region, life are far too much to take in over the course of one day. Let it marinate. One of her friends placed the palms of her hands over her temples and pushed them along her face the way I often do when I am overwhelmed or stressed. Why do you do it? How do you do it? How can you live here? The questions came out of her as though they were a force of nature beyond her control.
“I do it…because it is effective.”