Culture of Volunteerism in Palestine
In my opinion, the culture of volunteerism in Palestine was more prevalent in the past. Historically, Palestinians voluntarily gathered to help their neighbors on several occasions including, harvesting olive trees and providing support for one another on different cultural occasions. Unfortunately, this culture of volunteerism has drastically decreased in Palestine. Although there are a wide array of volunteer opportunities available to the Palestinian youth, participation remains low due to several reasons. First, many age-appropriate participants are unaware of different volunteer opportunities and their benefits. Mahmood Saleh, a volunteer in the Core Child Program, says "when I was a volunteer at An-Najah National University at the Community Service Center, it was a challenge to enroll volunteers because they could not comprehend the concept behind volunteering and others couldn't see how it would be a skill-building opportunity." Although campuses emphasize the importance of volunteering and community service by making it a requirement, students only complete volunteer hours to fulfill graduation requirements.
Second, some institutions that do offer volunteer opportunities do not focus on building volunteer's skills, and instead use them to meet the institution's objectives. This often means that young people don't feel valued when they volunteer.
Finally, with high unemployment rates that have reach 50.6% in 2013, students strive towards looking for paid jobs to support their families after graduation, instead of spending their time "working for free."
With the increase of NGOs that provide vast amounts of volunteer opportunities, the culture of volunteerism is gradually becoming more understood. Also, with new initiatives, such as Yalla Shabab launched by The European Union and Young Entrepreneurs, "volunteer days" are becoming more prevalent. Moreover, with increased jobs that require work experience, more college students are focusing on applying for different volunteer opportunities. With this, Palestinian youth have developed a greater sense of responsibility.
Here at Tomorrow's Youth Organization, over 70 dedicated volunteers apply per semester to our Youth Service Learning Program. This encourages us to offer more volunteer opportunities for Palestinian youth. TYO aims to increase the culture of volunteerism amongst youth, university students, and graduates, by providing them with an environment to build professionalism. We also rely on word of mouth and social media to increase awareness and community service. A volunteer at TYO, Muna Hussein states, "I am really excited about helping refugee children and serving my community. Now I feel like I'm actually doing something to help my people." Filisteen Hamadeh, another TYO volunteer says, "initially, I was only looking for something to fill my free time, but now I understand the true meaning of volunteerism and its benefits."
Ruba is the Volunteer Coordinator at TYO in Nablus. This blog was edited by Reema, a fall 2013 TYO Zahi Khouri Fellow.