Whilst the world debates the future of Israel and Palestine I thought I'd take a moment to present a positive story from inside Jerusalem.
Today Jerusalem is divided into East and West. Palestinian communities live in the East segregated from the rest of Israel. A series of security checkpoints divides these communities. School children have to pass through these checkpoints daily to travel between school and home. Teenagers from the East cannot meet teenagers from the West or visa versa.
I am working in Jerusalem with language connections; an Israeli non for profit organisation to create online dialog between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian teenagers. They have found two schools who can provide computers and teachers to the project to facilitate this. The teenagers are being taught English (as a common and neutral language). We will connect them together over the Internet and create dialog using the theme of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Today we visit our first school in Jabba Muhabir; a Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The school has around 2000 young people who live in or travel to this segregated community.
As we drove past the UN checkpoint my Jewish colleges grew quiet. For them this is a no go area and their nerves were being tested. When you feel these tensions you gain an understanding of just how difficult it is to resolve the long term issues within this region of the world.
My task is simple yet complex. I want to present computers, digital photography and image manipulation fun. I want them to be able to work with photos. I want them to take photos, share them and use them to exchange cultural references and as a source for dialog. If I can do that we stand a chance of these teenagers creating meaningful dialog over a long period of time; hopefully forming friendships and even entrepreneurial activities together.
As we descended down the hill my own nerves filled my stomach. I really had no idea what to expect.
We arrived at the school to be greeted by Mai; the teacher. We walked through the school to a small computer room where we met 15 students aged between 13 and 15. It was clear that they too had their nerves - I guess I must have been the first tall thin English white nerd that ever set foot in this class and they knew it.
The formality of the computer desks threw me. I did not want to conduct an IT class, so I did what any normal person would do; I sat on the floor and they crowded around me. Various bits of kit were pulled from my bag and the nerves from all in the room were soon gone.
I played two videos; one of Florence Griffith winning the 100m and one of Michael Johnson winning the 200m in the Olympics. From that I asked them how it would feel to be there photographing such an event. I gave them both the digital camera and the video camera and they started to play. At that moment I knew the rest of my day was going to be fun and easy.
As they played I started to ask about how it would feel like to win a Gold medal and how the community would treat them. They did not know so we put it to the test. We took a photo of one of the pupils, put her in front of the Olympic rings and put a Gold medal around her.
To a round of laugher I presented Jabba Muhabir with its first Olympic gold medalist. They all deserved Gold medals of course.
We had to end there because these teenagers needed to leave for a long walk up to the security post which they must clear before 5pm when the gate closes.
What did I learn? These young people are amazing. They are full of positive energy. The digital divide becomes obvious here. They have computers. They even work, but that is only the start of the story. We need to give them free software from which they can create and share. We need to give them knowledge so that they can learn together and finally we need (in this case) to get them digital cameras to facilitate storytelling. If you can help with that please contact us at info-at-barnraiser-dot-org.
The first part of this exercise is complete. Tomorrow I visit a school in the west to do the same exercise. From there we take both classes into a closed group on the web and I begin to feed them with tutorials about using pictures whilst Language Connections starts to create dialog between them. Another report will follow in the next few days.
Note: the software used was GIMP. The digital camera was an Olympus u750 all weather and the video camera a Sanyo xActi ca65.
Tom Calthrop, Hatton Garden, Dominica