This weekend I had the privilege of going to EcoPeace’s EcoPark in Ein Gedi along with a group of 22 Israeli teenage youth water trustees. Working in the office in Tel Aviv, I was becoming worried about getting stuck in a bubble where I’d see the issues that EcoPeace deals with, the talk of a peace solution, and most importantly, the future generations that they inspire, as separate entities, as hypotheticals. But being on the ground, amongst those kids, seeing the issues first hand, and witnessing them bond with people who would usually be seen as ‘the other side’ brought to life for me how real and how vitally important EcoPeace’s work is.
When we arrived the kids immediately threw themselves into the outdoor activities, and, worried about a language barrier, I threw myself into the fresh pita and tahini and my role as photographer. But, being the inclusive and outgoing people that they are the kids pulled me over and insisted that I join their team for one of the games. Being cheered on in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, is an experience I will never forget.
This same spirit of inclusivity carried over into dinner where they showed me videos of their favourite singers and tv shows, and tried in vain to teach me how to dance. It’s clear that no matter the language I’ve got two left feet, but if my terrible dancing could give them all something to bond over then maybe it’s a blessing after all.
The next day they got to practice being environmental leaders by leading discussions and presentations on a nature hike. Despite not understanding a lot of what they were saying, it was clear that they were all passionate and invested in the future of the environment in the region. The walk not only exposed me to the incredible landscape of Ein Gedi, but it was also a great opportunity to talk with a lot of the water trustees, to learn about their lives and their aspirations to be doctors and singers and teachers, to laugh, sing, and compare languages.
Growing up in England and America all of the news surrounding Israel is bleak. It’s rare to see any sort of good-news story about the region, and if there is one it’s usually viewed as a ‘feel-good’ fluff piece on a slow news day. If you’ve never been here it’s easy to be pessimistic about the area based on what’s served up as pure fact. It should be mandatory for anyone with this mindset to go on a trip with the Youth Water Trustees. These kids are incredible. Firstly, most of them can read and write in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, that’s not just three languages it’s three alphabets. Nobody needs to worry about the intelligence of our future leaders. Secondly, they’re invested in the issues that really matter. They were there to talk about the Dead Sea and its lack of water, it didn’t matter to whom or with whom they were giving presentations, just that they could make a difference to their environment. The presence of different peers certainly factored into the experience but it wasn’t the defining point of the trip, and the normality with which they treated their friendships amongst each other was incredibly heartening to me. Thirdly, at the risk of sounding cliché, they’re all just normal teenagers. On Friday night we turned the music all the way up and had a dance party. We talked about boys and added each other on Snapchat as if we were in any other part of the world. So I would say to anyone who’s never been here: the future is filled with incredibly intelligent, relatable, people who are perfectly capable of putting biases aside to deal with the real issues at hand. It gives me a lot of hope which you should have too.
Written by: Sophie Clark