Do you want to make a difference on your holiday? Not interested in ‘fluffy’ volunteering with baby elephants and turtles which costs a lot and sounds nice but makes very little difference? Well let me suggest volunteering in Palestine with the Four Homes of Mercy NGO in the West Bank , a unique opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
The Four Homes of Mercy in Bethany (previously part of Jerusalem but now in the West Bank due to the Separation Wall) was established in 1940 as an independent charitable organization helping ‘the poorest of poor’ – residents are physically and neurologically challenged – irrespective of their wealth, needs, gender, race, age or religion. A great cause among the many great NGOs in Palestine. The goal was to maintain residents competences to enable them to enjoy a decent and respectful quality of life. Today, this hasn’t changed but sadly the situation in the West Bank has.
Times are tough here today, arguably tougher than they ever have been and the Four Homes of Mercy desperately needs volunteers who can help improve the quality of life of the residents, many of whom live with several disabilities. The staff here are amazing! Hard workers, they know how to have a laugh and deal with the unexpected – volunteers would ideally would be as well!
While knowing that the volunteer work you are doing is truly making a difference, your time in the West Bank will also offer you a unique chance to really understand the heartbreaking reality of life here under the Israeli occupation. People often respond with shock and disbelief when I talk about my time in the West Bank, but trust me – you will find incredibly welcoming and friendly people here! At no point, even catching taxis, buses or walking down the street at night, was I concerned for my safety at… not once! It’s not at all like you’d imagine and this is why it’s so crucial to come here and see it for yourself.
If you don’t have enough time for volunteering in Palestine this time I still recommend you try to understand the reality of living here … You can read about my Bethlehem Travels here or talk to Visit Palestine for in-depth, local tours to off-the-beaten track destinations to really see and fee what is happening to this beautiful country.
I came to visit the Four Homes of Mercy because my step mum was volunteering in Palestine here many years ago. I had seen photos and heard stories and wanted to see it for myself. Today it is very different, Bethany is no longer a part of Jerusalem – separated by a giant wall, cut off. It’s more built up than in the photos I’d seen, but the home is still there, doing the same incredible work they have done for over 75 years! One of the children my step-mum worked with during her time here has grown up and works here today. He remembered his childhood fondly and the volunteers, even remembering my step-mum!
On my visit to the Four Homes of Mercy, I spoke to many of the resident staff there to find out what was needed to volunteer in Palestine in an environment like this:
The key is flexibility, compassion, empathy, and unfailing sense of humour! Respect for the ideas and practices of others, whose ways of viewing and doing things are different from one’s own; the clear commitment that one is coming to serve people, not change them.
One of my main concerns about volunteering in Palestine at the Four Homes of Mercy would be that I did not have the necessary skills. To make sure I really was of help more than a hindrance to the NGOs in Palestine. Again I asked about what sort of assignments a volunteer could be expected to complete and what skills would be useful:
“Assignments” would be determined by a volunteer’s interests and skills, and the Homes’ director. We’ve had volunteers tackle painting, gardening and organization projects. Others have enriched the lives of our residents (and staff) by utilizing their musical abilities—someone with a guitar, for instance, could be a wandering troubadour for all the units. Others have coaxed smiles by giving gentle massages and one-on-one attention to some of our more impaired people. Others have helped some of our people with games—we would love a bocce ball coach since we’ve Palestine’s only court, eager residents, but no one with the time and skill to coach them. Other volunteers might help with ‘transport’–pushing wheelchairs so our residents could enjoy different parts of the garden, accompanying them on trips outside the Homes …. We’d be grateful to have volunteers who could work on developing materials for fundraising—increasing our web presence, taking pictures of our residents who love to have their rooms adorned with pictures of themselves….. If someone has specialized skills in special education, and/or autism, and/or working with the blind, we’d love help in developing our program. Also, a licensed psychologist with experience in special needs to assist in diagnosing some of our people…..
So really, absolutely anyone with a pair of helping hands and a smile has more than enough skills to be of help somewhere in the NGOs in Palestine. There’s a task that can be found for any skill set or for however involved you’d like to be while being a volunteer in Palestine.
Finally I was wondering how long I would need to volunteer for, as I know many people have very different time schedules and limited amounts of leave from work or perhaps the opposite and would like to stay somewhere a bit longer:
“Working hours—length of stay, etc” again would depend on the volunteers. We’ve had groups come for a week, or less, to tackle a specific project—such as digging out and organizing a storeroom so it could be transformed into a workroom, or painting rooms. Our longest volunteer, an American who has now been here 5 months, working (and making a huge difference!!) in the children’s section four days each week.. Again, the time commitment would depend on the volunteers and is flexible.
Support in any way, be it big or small, all is welcomed by this NGO in Palestine. The staff and residents are more than happy with whatever is a possibility. I am sure however you will find volunteering in Palestine so rewarding you wish to volunteer as much of your time as possible, or perhaps consider one of the NGO jobs in Palestine.
As far as accommodation and other arrangements go, that would typically depend on the age and gender of the volunteer—a single person, a couple, more? Volunteering in Palestine requires flexibility and this works both ways at the Four Homes of Mercy. I was completely inspired by my visit here, and would love the opportunity to volunteer here and am actively looking to see when I can do it! If you are still a bit concerned I recommend you read about whether American’s really are in danger in the West Bank.