Letter from the West Bank

IN December, the Piper reported on Nicky Bolland, a social anthropology graduate from Cushnie, who was about to embark on a year-long stay in the West Bank.

Her trip, made possible after a series of fundraising events, would involve teaching English to young people living in a refugee camp, as part of the Bridge to the World programme, with Project Hope. Bridge to the World aims to connect young Palestinians with other young people around the world, and to give them a voice and a view of life outside occupation.

Nicky has now arrived safely in the West Bank, and the following is a first hand account of her impressions so far.

"I have made it through the snow, through many exciting cities, past the imposing concrete wall, through the olive groves and into the chaotic and welcoming arms of Nablus. I am quickly settling in to life in Nablus, a small city in the West Bank. I have come to love the Knafeh (the cheesy dessert Nablus is famed for) and am overwhelmed by the warmth of the Palestinian people. Everywhere I go I am greeted by cries of 'Welcome!'.

I am in Nablus with the organization Project Hope who provide humanitarian and educational support to Palestinians (especially children). Project Hope's main programs are English and French and they also provide enthusiastic support and resources for volunteers to deliver a wide range of projects. One of the international volunteers has been teaching children about the environment and this weekend she organized a 'clean up day' at Askar refugee camp. Children and volunteers spent time picking up litter – a real problem here - from the olive groves beside the camp.

Whilst I'm here I hope to be involved in a range of projects, including girls' football, children's workshops, community gardening and English. My students explain that English is essential for connecting with the world outside Nablus. Engaging the international community will be crucial in changing the situation here, and Palestinians are the key actors in this dialogue.

My other tasks are to learn and share as much as possible about the occupation. Certainly the last week has opened my eyes and I realise how little we are told on the other side of the concrete wall. Stories of loss, grief, arrest, and injury, to mention nothing of the stress such experiences entail, are unshakeable shadows for those who call this home. But despite these histories, the people here are strong, open and full of warmth. A joke is never far behind a tragic story in Palestine, and a cup of tea is never far behind a joke.

Over the last six months the circumstances have significantly improved in Nablus, with freedom of movement between cities being 'granted' by Israel (imagine the privilege of travelling between Aberdeen and Dundee without having to hand over your passport). But as Nablus has quickly risen, so it may quickly fall - should Israel see fit to cease full control again. We had some sense of this last week as the checkpoints around the city were randomly closed without warning for the first time since July – meaning no-one could get in or out. Though checkpoints were re-opened the next day, minds remain occupied with fears of invasion.

Through living here, I am slowly coming to understand the facts of occupation. Things are calmer in Nablus, for the moment. But much has to change before Palestinians - and Israelis - will be relieved of the chronic exhaustion, fear and frustration which are the symptoms of occupation.

If you are interested in hearing more about my experiences here and finding more information about the region, check out my blog – www.aviewfromthebridge.wordpress.com.

Project Hope is a well established charity which focuses its resources on providing humanitarian and medical relief. It brings local Palestinians and international volunteers together to effect change.

International volunteer teachers must have the means to support themselves while they work in Palestine. For more information, go to www.projecthope.ps "