The Excellence Center in Palestine and Germany
The Excellence Center in Palestine and Germany Programs
The Excellence Center in Palestine and Germany Reviews
Volunteering teaching English in Palestine
Submitted by Pam | June 11, 2018
My name's Pam and I'm from England. I was volunteering teaching English at Excellence Center for 2 weeks, as well as writing some online articles about recent developments and events at the Center. I found the environment at Excellence to be perfect in every way: volunteers were all extremely friendly and easy to socialize with, and the students I taught were so sociable and welcoming that I met up with many of them outside of classes to play PlayStation, smoke shisha, jam with some guitars etc. The local staff were fantastic in every way too, and I simply could not have asked for a more amazing group of people to help oversee my volunteering experience.
My view of the staff was also certainly aided by the extremely kind and inspiring teacher Ahlam, whose classes I sometimes assisted and whose friendly and caring attitude both meant that I had a wonderful time assisting and that the students in the classes were always delightfully engaged in the subject at hand.
I went with Excellence Center to the keffiyeh factory in Hebron, and to the glass and ceramics factory too. I also visited a couple of schools in the area, and went on tours of the Old City and al-Ibrahimi mosque. Before I spent a couple of weeks at the Center I spent time in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem as well, and the small size of the region makes travelling between areas (as a foreigner) reasonably quick, cheap and easy. Living in Hebron was fascinating in so many ways, and the location of the house the male volunteers were in meant that we were extremely close to so many of the major places in Hebron.
If I'm being honest, I did certainly have some pretty dangerous experiences in Palestine and I won't say that it was always safe for me. Nonetheless, all dangerous situations (whether in Hebron or anywhere else in the nation) are in my opinion the inevitable result of choosing to be in specific areas where it is well-known that there might be some risk of danger, and which you accept in some sense by being there. Most problems are usually very localised, meaning that unless one wishes to look for danger or has chosen to be in less-safe areas, it is certainly possible to avoid virtually all issues quite easily.
My favourite elements of Palestine would have to be the food, the hospitality of many of the people, and the depth of culture and history. I have dozens of wonderful stories from my time in the country too. I would say one of my favorite ones came when I was watching a demonstration, and I saw a soldier fire a tear gas canister from a rooftop onto the street below.
As I watched, a young teenager picked up the canister from the middle of the street and successfully threw it back right onto the rooftop, landing directly amongst the soldiers who had just fired it. Some people around applauded, and I felt that even when putting aside all the politics of the situation, the sheer audacity, bravery and luck involved made it a somewhat unique moment without a doubt.
After volunteering, my lasting impressions about Palestine are that it is a nation of breathtaking cultural, historical and religious significance, and that its people are usually extremely hospitable and welcoming in so many truly indescribable ways. Sadly there is definitely a level of street harassment and a dislike of outsiders from a small proportion of the population, but the truly astounding amount of friendliness and warmth from the vast majority of people clearly dominates, and provides for a wonderful overall experience.
My overall experience of Palestine is of an extremely fascinating and different place to travel, and of Excellence Center as being a wonderful organisation run by lovely people that provides volunteers with genuinely meaningful work and a plethora of contacts in the city, thus ensuring a fantastic time. I would therefore recommend it without a shadow of a doubt. My only suggestion would be from the fact that, having heard many volunteers discuss it throughout my time here, there appears to be a consensus amongst them that the money required to be able to volunteer seems somewhat substantial when there are many nearby organisations desperately trying to find any volunteers whatsoever. I also know of people who would love to have spent half a year or more helping people out at the Center long-term, but instead reduced it to a month or so due to the financial element.
I have no complaints whatsoever personally, but I do believe that the Center would benefit enormously from a major rethink of the financial element, because the potential to have a very large supply of long-term volunteers helping the community is certainly somewhat constrained in present circumstances.
Life-changing experience in Palestine
Submitted by Samantha - - | April 16, 2018
I have been in Hebron for almost six weeks, and it has been an amazing experience, even life-changing. I have met so many beautiful people and enjoyed so many wonderful experiences. The staff at the Excellence Center have also been a joy to be around where each day brings new surprises.
My Arabic teacher has been excellent in both enthusiasm and skill in providing a foundation to progress in the language. I have met people from everywhere and there is a stark contrast between what is portrayed in the media and the reality of Hebron. I found the people protective, unbelievably generous and hospitable, and constantly friendly. There is an unhealthy opinion that Hebron is dangerous; in this regard, the center has had more than 160 volunteers arrive with not a single issue concerning their safety.
I had the opportunity to visit Ramallah and Bethlehem which was also extremely positive; in this vein it was interesting to note that Hebron has a more conservative Islamic lifestyle that only enhances the environment. I visited the Dead Sea where I was able to float on my stomach with my head well out of the water but make sure you dont get it in your mouth. A highlight for me was the trip to the Saab Monastry which is 1500 hundred years old like a Templar castle built on the side of a mountain rockface. I also lived in an accomodation only four hundred meters from the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were buried. The history of this area is astounding.
I was surprised to see that shopowners leave their shops unattended to pray or do busy, and nothing ever appears to be taken. I was also pleasantly surprised to observe how many people go out of their way to tell you that you are welcome in Palestine. Constantly I was offered tea, coffee, food and sweets. I cannot believe how skilled the Palestinain people are making pastries, and especially ice cream – I really think that they are the best in the world.
On reflection, I am really impressed with the majority of Palestinian people. In Arabic they talk about a 'white heart' (Qalb Abyad) which is kind of how we say 'a pure heart' in English. In this regard, I have come to admire these people for their ability to enjoy life to the best of their ability despite suffering which has been at the hands of others including Isrealis and their own people.
It has been an incredible opportunity to mature my thoughts and revisit my perspective that will no doubt add to my wellbeing for the rest of my life. I am a better person and have made a number of lifelong friends that I look forward to contacting in future.
Don't be discouraged by the media. Palestine needs foreigners to contribute to the peace process as well. The great news is that you can do while having a great time.
Program: Internship in Palestine
Submitted by Anna - - | April 13, 2018
My name is Anna and I am a 31-year-old journalist from Spain participating in "teach English, learn Arabic" program in the Excellence center.
I decided to visit Palestine because I read a lot about rich Palestinian history and culture and I wanted to see for myself how an everyday life looks like in this region which is unfortunately often misrepresented in the media. Also, I wanted to learn the Arabic language.
I applied for the Excellence center course because I was drawn to its program that tries to benefit the local community, as well as to allow participants to really get to know how the life in Palestine looks like.
My first impressions were overwhelming: people of Palestine are so welcoming and friendly, making you feel like you are at home. My advice to everybody would be to let go of fears and prejudices one might have about the Middle East and come enjoy great music, culture, food, and the company of Palestinians. I feel completely safe in Palestine and people are more than willing to help if you need it. Of course, one should get familiar with the culture different from theirs to know do's and dont's, just like when traveling anywhere else.
During my stay in Hebron, I went to the local schools and participated in English classes in Excellence center, group ones as well as the private ones. It's a good way to be in touch with people and get a more authentic experience and I was glad to see the students were so motivated and willing to learn.
My host family made the whole experience amazing, making their home feel like mine too, I couldn't thank them enough. Living in Hebron means dealing with hundreds of different experiences and seeing a completely different world than of your own, especially if you are coming from Europe or North America, which makes it that much more interesting and gives you a new perspective.
Traveling alone and volunteering in Palestine
Submitted by Joe - Mountain View United States | April 10, 2018
I have been at the Excellence Center for nearly a month, and in that time have take trips alone to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and to the small village of Nabi Saleh, which is north of Ramallah. As an opening statement to this article, I can say it is surprisingly easy to get around on public transportation in Palestine, it is inexpensive, it is safe, and I have had no problems traveling alone.
There may be a general impression among westerners that it is dangerous to visit Palestine. I have had several messages from friends back in the United States urging me to be careful and 'stay safe.' My impression at this time is that for foreigners, Palestine is safer than many other travel destinations, and certainly safer than many large American cities, especially at night.
The only predictable danger here that I am aware of for foreigners is finding oneself involved in an altercation between Palestinian protesters and Israel soldiers. Generally, protest actions build over time, and while foreigners are often curious to observe a confrontation, one almost always has the option of walking away from such a gathering storm.
Public transportation in Palestine is very good, and in fact it is certainly much better than where I live in Washington state. There is large bus service between all medium and large-sized cities at very low cost, often less than one dollar American. In addition, there is a huge fleet of yellow vans called sheruts or seervice, which roam throughout the cities and between cities. The cost of traveling from Hebron to Bethlehem, which is about a half hour drive, has been 9 sheckels, or two dollars, during my stay here. Lastly, there are taxis everywhere, and they too will take you anywhere within a city for a few dollars, or to another city for a higher price than a bus or sherut, but they will get there much faster.
I have never had an unfriendly or negative interaction with anyone while traveling in Palestine. While I would say most Palestinians do not speak English (except for 'welcome' and 'where you from?'), everyone is willing to help, and if necessary an English speaker can usually be found. The one problem I did have was trying to get from Hebron to Jerusalem on a time schedule, to meet a tour given by the group 'Breaking the Silence' (former Israeli soldiers speaking out against the occupation).
In a taxi or sherut the trip takes about an hour. My mistake was getting on a bus when I had to change vehicles in Bethlehem; the buses are quite slow, because they stop so often. That trip took two hours and I missed the tour.
So, to sum up, traveling alone and volunteering in Palestine is very easy and as safe as traveling anywhere in the world. You can impress your friends back home with how brave you are while actually being more secure than in many places in the USA.
My experience volunteering at the Excellence Center in Palestine
Submitted by Sophia - Colorado Springs United States | February 04, 2018
My name is Sophia, I am from the United States and I have spent the last three months volunteering with the Excellence Center in Hebron, Palestine. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Middle East Studies with a minor in Arabic so my participation in the “Volunteer to Write about Palestine” program at the Excellence Center fit right in with my previous experience.
My main task each day at the Excellence Center was to write two articles that would be put up on the EC website or distributed to other travel and volunteer information sites. I covered a range of different topics in my articles. I interviewed other international volunteers and wrote about their experiences and the work they were doing at the center. I got the chance to sit down with the director of the center for a discussion of which I later wrote about. Cultural and social norms of Palestinian society was also a topic I touched on regularly, these articles were important because they let prospective foreign volunteers get a sense of what Palestinian life is really like from the perspective of an international volunteer on the ground. Additionally, I wrote about practical subjects for future volunteers such as what to expect from security at the airport, how to navigate travel from the airport in Tel Aviv to Hebron, items current volunteers wish they had packed and items they packed but did not need, how to stay in touch with loved ones at home and how to dress in Hebron.
My Arabic lessons at the center were an enormous help and definitely one of the highlights of my week. Having studied Arabic before my modern standard Arabic was already pretty solid but I was completely unfamiliar with Palestinian dialect, so that was what my lessons focused on. My Palestinian Arabic teacher at the center was certainly the best Arabic teacher I have ever had.
Fairly regularly the EC would gather up all the international volunteers and take us to site visits around Hebron or in the surrounding area. During my time at the center I got to visit: a kufiyah factory, watch glassblowers in their workshop, see ceramics artisans molding and hand painting pottery, visit Bethlehem, eat traditional Palestinian food at the house of a student at the EC, walk through the old city and enter the Ibrahimi mosque. On my own time I went to Jericho and swam in the dead sea as well as visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem several times I also greatly enjoyed visiting Ramallah.
Living with a Palestinian host family was one of the most important aspects of my time volunteering in Hebron. I was immediately taken in as one of the family and I never ceased to be amazed by their hospitality. I would never understand the Palestinian culture and people as I do now without my homestay experience. I will never forget my time living with my Palestinian family. Secondly, my Arabic improved leaps as most of my family spoke little to no English. My Palestinian family gave me a sense of safety and security, I knew I had people here who cared and would look out for me. During my time volunteering in Hebron I have not once felt my safety was I danger.
Knowing I must leave Palestine and the Excellence Center in just a couple days it is hard not to think of everything I am going to miss. I think the hardest part will be saying goodbye to my host family. Leaving the special aspects of Palestinian culture such has their welcoming and inclusive spirit will certainly be a huge culture shock when returning to the west. Lastly, I would not be truthful if I did not mention the food in Palestine. It is so delicious that I do not even want to think about being without it in just a couple days.
Overall, I had a great experience volunteering with the Excellence Center and I would definitely recommend this program to any who are interested. The more people we have come to Palestine and see the true day to day life, feel their open , and witness their love for life and their fellow humans, the better.