Linking together for human rights

Palestinian Voices Matter: Students 2020

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Palestinian Voices Matter: Students’ visit to the UK

 When we got to the end of the football visit, which had been delayed by a month as fundraising was initially slow, the student visit and then the women’s visit were just around the corner and seemed much too soon! However, tickets had been bought and arrangements were nearly in place, so we had to go straight on from one to the next. How glad we are that we did. Each of these visits had its own strong character but each one had good visitors, good participants from the UK and produced exceptional results.

We began the planning for this year’s student visit with students from several (mainly London) universities and put out an application for students from Al Quds University. Students helped to make a short video which we used for a Crowdfunder; there were events and cake-sales but less was raised this way than hoped.  However, we had already some good applicants from Al Quds University who had made a good, short video about the problems faced by Palestinian students – we were determined to find a way to bring them!

We solved this by making links to Palestine groups all over the country including twinning groups and university groups interested to hear from Palestinian students.  Our key partner wasthe Bedford-Al Walaja twinning group who sponsored two students and the Mayor from their partner village. It was a pleasure to work with our Bedford friends and our friends from Al Walaja prepared useful presentations that contributed added to the experiences contributed by the other visitors.  In January-February 2020, We brought six students, the CADFA co-ordinator from Abu Dis, the Mayor of Al Walajeh and the Head of Students’ Activities from Al Quds University to the UK for two weeks to allow for a lot of activities. We took young Palestinian voices to universities and to town groups in Derby, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester, Leicester, Bedford, Northampton, Cambridge as well as several parts of London.

We had an impressive group of young people from both Palestine and the UK taking part in the visit. We began with a useful induction workshop in London which helped to bind the participants into a very positive speaking team.  We had a good programme, a good support team, a handbook, presentations by the students, a handout prepared for audience, a series of tasks to do (including learning about the places visited and talking about human rights) s and we set out in a minibus for our tour outside London. Here each day typically involved time visiting a new place, visiting a university, and talking to students and staff, a public meeting and on-going review of how it was going.In Sheffield, Palestinian students were excited to join a street event in support of Palestinian human rights.

These were purposeful and energetic days and the Palestinian students met hundreds of people including university students, members of twinning and Palestine groups and the general public.  It was a fantastic experience for hundreds of people overall, with sharing and learning going in so many directions. We would like to record our thanks to the very good people we met all over the country – helpers, speakers, hosts and now friends.

During these days, the Trump ‘Deal of the Century’ was finally unveiled, and ignored Palestinian claims, needs and human rights; indeed it had been constructed with no Palestinian input at all. This was an important focus of many of the discussions across the country.

The final part of the visit took place in London, with an opportunity to see the city as well as visits to London universities. We invited others to join the students in a sponsored walk with “Palestinian Voices Matter” banners and leaflets, hoping to deliver a letter to the Foreign Office – but they were unable to take it from us so it reached them via a post box! We had a media workshop that produced a short film – and a student twinning conference. Each of these was very successful. The students and all the visitors spoke well and there were many good discussions. They contributed enthusiastically to activities and were very interested – sparking great interest and involvement in others.

The conference at King’s College was almost sabotaged by a huge storm that shut down London – but still students from many of the universities that the Palestinians had visited managed to come along to discuss how best to make on-going use of this visit. Students from the two countries discussed ways to stay in touch and decided to work to build both a new student visit to Palestine and a future student visit from Palestine.

Once again we finished with a wonderful event at Café Palestina which allowed students from both countries and representatives of twinning groups to do a report back on the visit.  This was followed by a positive and useful evaluation session. Students had enjoyed meeting people, taking part in so many activities, felt it was important and “can’t wait to do it again.” Most said that the visit had exceeded their expectations and that they had learned a lot: one student wrote…

“I learned soooooo very much more about my own country ( Palestine), I learned a lot about England, I learned more and more about how to reach people about this case, I learned a lot and a lot of other things, it will be so hard to fill things here, I can say that this was the best experience I have ever had of this kind”

We collected as much feedback as we could from the many meetings that the students went to. Much of it was as follows…

I just wanted to say it was fantastic to meet the people from Palestine yesterday, in (my town).

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences of life….. So interesting.
I think the ‘story’ about the flag was so touching to all present.
I think you are all brilliant to keep going, to keep learning, to live your lives under such terrible circumstances….
I want you all to know that people do care and want things to change….It’s hard to know what to do to help but many want to help.
You have made a big impression on me, everyone seemed so positive and full of life….. Not to mention your great language skills.I’m sending positive thoughts and love to you all…

From CADFA’s point of view, this visit was significant not only in enlivening the student link work but in supporting and encouraging a number of twinning and other groups working on Palestinian issues.

Some of the photographs taken and short videos made during the visit are on the blog https://cadfastudent.blogspot.com/