My first day on the job as an intern with FoEME’s Good Water Neighbours Project took me to Jordan, where the coordinators from 28 border communities in Jordan, Palestine and Israel gathered to discuss and plan this year’s educational Regional Youth Camps. Once the Israeli contingent had crossed the border in the early morning and arrived on site, a warm feeling of camaraderie welcomed us as we joined those already present. And then, of course, we ate and drank coffee in preparation for the work ahead.
The discussion opened up with an official welcome and brief round table-style introductions, followed by a summary of the previous Community Coordinators’ meeting to get everyone up to speed. One of the key issues touched upon in the review was that of the event of political conflict flaring up during the regional youth camps, and how to approach this difficult and touchy subject. Adrian, the brave German intern from the Amman office, gave a presentation on what types of sticky situations may arise in the multicultural groups of teenagers, and ways in which we, the facilitators and role models, might circumvent or deal with the combustible tension. After
examining different possible reactions, some behavioural ground rules and recommended standardized language, the floor was given over to the coordinators to actively participate in a simulation activity. Two people sat on either side of a moderator, representing the Israeli and Palestinian camps, and the observers were told to freely interchange with those sitting in the “hot seats”. In an interesting twist that stretched the limits of the participants’ imagination, all were encouraged to enact a part regardless of their actual origin—thus putting a Palestinian in the role of an Israeli (she was beside herself), but unfortunately running out of time before an Israeli could take the Arab side (certainly something to be explored further in future meetings). This interactive role-playing brought to light the ever-present political tensions lurking so close to the surface, and it was fascinating to see these dedicated community leaders grapple with ingrained prejudice and rhetoric in order to maintain thoughtful communication and a disciplined respect for one another. The simulation was a successful tool in that it made the immediate concern over predictable conflicts tangible, and forced us all to confront the delicate ways in which we can, and must, master ourselves in an effort to promote discussion and stay on the FoEME track of working together to address the environmental problems at hand. It will be no small achievement if the community leaders are able to impress this upon their youth groups, and everyone seems whole-heatedly committed to this goal.
In contrast to the staged (though very real) discussion/conflict, a moment of solidarity galvanized the group when, after a relentless hour of a wall-shaking engine roaring just outside the room (pumping air to unblock pipes to the Ziglab dam), it cut off suddenly—and with the restored peace came a collective sigh of relief, laughter, and round of applause. What most impressed me was that we had all been suffering equally from such a trivial thing, and in that mutual release, we were completely united. From there, we wrapped up the morning’s agenda and moved outside to stretch, eat, chat, and gather our strengths for the second half of the meeting: actually planning the youth camps.
We divided up into working groups according to neighbouring communities and sat around picnic tables in the lush greenery of the beautiful Eco-Park; the weather was perfect and the coordinators were content to work together in organizing the upcoming camps. Goals were stated, tasks were assigned, and the breezy afternoon passed in the pleasant hum of calm productivity. We now have detailed plans for no less than ten cross-border youth camps in 2014! When the time came to depart, we engaged in one final group activity—a hand-linking circle game whose instructions got lost in translation, but provided us with the last impression that despite our misunderstanding, we are here, we are close, and we are in this together.