Monday, January 13, 2014

The Impact of Our Trip

           Eleven days often go by without much consequence. We often forget how short a period of time is necessary to have a profound experience that changes us. The eleven days our group has spent in Israel has been one of those times. With different backgrounds, skills, ages, and points along our personal journeys, we have all learned and changed in this short period of time. As we recover from the jet lag and busy schedule, we look back on and try to process the past week and a half even while trying to keep up with the activism and demonstrations continuing in Israel.

            So what exactly was our impact during this service-learning trip? We touched down as asylum seekers across Israel were receiving summons to indefinite detention and as communities were mobilizing to support each other and demand a change in government policy. For much of our trip, we were observers on a steep learning curve. In Arad, we were introduced to a delicately balanced community trying to negotiate its evolving identity. We met community leaders, activists, education figures, and ordinary citizens who demonstrated a profound commitment to social justice. We worked side by side with Israeli volunteers and service members, sharing our personal and group stories while painting and organizing a local community center. We colored, glued, dribbled, and piggy-backed through three evenings of activities with children from Arad’s Sudanese community, young people unfortunately stuck in the middle of the refugee issue whose voices are not often heard.

            Finally, we worked with southern Israel’s central organization working with African refugees and asylum seekers, Ben Gurion University’s Students for Refugees, offering our time and skills to support the volunteers who dedicate so much energy to the cause. We developed website capacity, created lessons for English language study, and designed children’s activities to benefit the community members that Students for Refugees works with. Impact, however, can rarely be shown with a checklist of deliverables. Impact is less tangible when we think of the conversations we’ve had as a group and as individuals, and when we think of the solidarity felt around the asylum seeker issue. We hope our impact can continue in advocacy work we start back in the U.S. on our campus and in our communities.

            Impact is a two way street and during our trip we have been challenged, inspired, and called to action. Each of us has had our own journey through these eleven days and each will orient this trip differently into our lives. But we can all agree that we have been deeply impacted by the community mobilization, commitment, and organization that we witnessed both in Arad and Tel Aviv to challenge the government’s treatment of asylum seekers in Israel. Whether it was with the local community center’s collective vision for a safe and engaging place for youth in the area or participating in three days of community outreach and mapping with the Sudanese and Eritrean population of Arad, we are struck by the local empowerment and perseverance we have witnessed. We are humbled by the solidarity and hope fostered by asylum seekers in Israel and the Israelis advocating with them out of love and dedication to their country’s advancement of human rights and justice.

            Impact is easy to declare and celebrate, but far more difficult to sustain. Near the end of our time in Israel, Maayan reminded us that a commitment to social justice must be reflected in our daily lives – the passion we bring to our causes, the way we treat each other, and the way we can be of service to others. As we arrive back in the U.S., events continue to unfold rapidly in Tel Aviv and across Israel. We hope the ongoing activism of asylum seekers and their allies bring a positive impact that fosters peace, tolerance, and human rights. We hope our own impact can continue through advocacy and education among our peers, school, jobs, communities, and media here at home. Finally, we hope that these eleven days will remain with us all as a reminder that change requires change makers. Our connection to this issue will serve as a reminder to stand up in our own lives and communities and embrace the idea of an impact that is never truly finished.  

This blog post was written by Emily Bird.

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