Representing Palestinian Youth in America
From Sarta, a village outside of Salfeet, Amani Musleh is 22 years old, studying English Language and Literature at An-Najah Univeristy and is a current volunteer at TYO. Amani has been a TYO volunteer since Fall 2012 as a translator in intern-led classes.
In April 2013, with TYO businesswoman Sahar and TYO's Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad, Amani left Palestine for the first time to participant in The Women of Nablus delegation through The Telos Group and headed to the United States. Amani shares her experiences in Washington, DC and Minnesota with us and explains what lessons she has learned.
What was the delegation?
The Telos Group sent three TYO representatives - myself, Suhad and Sahar - to participate in a delegation called The Women of Nablus. Through this delegation, we spoke to Americans - from college students to congressmen - about the daily challenges and struggles we face as Palestinians. I spoke on behalf of university students and how Palestinians face incredible barriers towards our education.
What story did you tell people?
I only had about five minutes to tell my story so I made sure I kept it interesting and compelling. I spoke about volunteering at TYO and about being a student. I discussed the issue of checkpoints - how they regulate which school I was able to attend - and obstacles women face in obtaining degrees due to life under occupation. I also spoke on the education system as a whole and how schools cannot afford for its students to learn outside of the classroom. Educational field trips are incredibly difficult as the universities cannot afford travel costs and also, because up until several years ago, students needed permits just to leave the city. Today, permits are still required to go to other cities outside the West Bank - like Jerusalem.
What did you learn?
- The power to speak freely. Being in America was the first time I was able to talk freely - especially about politics. Conversations like that aren't encouraged at the universities in Palestine. Most importantly, I felt like I was able to share my own story without being afraid of what others were going to say. I felt liberated.
- People care. Before I met with any Members of Congress, I thought, "They can't help Palestine and they don't really care." But I found that they were so eager to learn from us! They asked a lot of questions and showed genuine interest in my story. It helped me better realize that people do care about what is happening to Palestinians.
- A respectful culture. I didn't know what to expect - wearing a hijab in America. I thought that in meetings, people would find my hijab off-putting and wouldn't listen to what I had to say. But I quickly found that Americans were so respectful. People were actually interested in understanding my religion and culture. I was even surprised to see Americans wearing hijab on the street and living in such a carefree way without being bothered by anyone.
What was the highlight of the trip for you?
Seeing the mall in Washington was amazing! Taking a tour of the capital building was great - I learned so much about American history! All of the monuments were just beautiful and we walked for hours just taking in the sites.
Now that you're back in Nablus, how do you feel?
Ever since the plane landed in Amman, so much has gone through my mind. I'm graduating in July and I have immediately started searching for jobs. Securing a job means I can continue my education. I dream of getting a Master's Degree and studying outside of Palestine. But in order to do so, I need to have an income as I can no longer rely on my parents.
After returning home, I know that these critical years on my life shouldn't be wasted. I feel more energy now than ever to go out and study!