Meet Marah, Sondos and Mutaz, three young people who have been dedicating their free time to YMCA for the past two to three years. As volunteers, they are in charge of 70 young people aged 15-20 and lead youth groups through activities such as painting, photography and dancing. “In East Jerusalem, we have little playgrounds or safe places to meet outside,” they explain. “Here, we have nice facilities and we can be creative in how to use them.”
After their lessons finish for the day, Marah, Sondos and Mutaz come to YMCA, giving their time from 3-7pm. When asked why they volunteer, they first express their wish to support young men and women: “Life is not easy here for young Arabs, so we make sure they have fun. But we also want them to be able to express themselves. We face children and teenagers which are very different and diverse. And in the end, we see them growing, and we grow with them.”
YMCA East Jerusalem started in October 1948 in a refugee camp near Jericho. Today, it has facilities in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Beit Sahour. “This year, we graduated the 67th class,” said YMCA East Jerusalem General Secretary Peter Nasir. “We have 200 to 300 students. We offer different activities: we have a fitness centre, we organise summer camps, we support young people facing physical and mental disabilities, and we do rehabilitation for those who face violence. Due to the conflict, many young Palestinians are incarcerated. It is important to support them, for them to be able to digest their anger, but also to join again the society. Our global aim is to move people away from violence. We try to instill hope in children by showing them that someone cares about them.”
Volunteer Coordinator Nicola Abuamsha says YMCA East Jerusalem has 40 local volunteers with one or two internationals joining the team. This year, he has encouraged them in participating in YMCA World Challenge.
“On 5 June, we have fundraising events and on the day of the challenge (8 June), we will call out for people to volunteer 175 minutes in an elderly home and in an orphanage. This challenge is a great way to achieve personal goals.”
Indeed, as volunteers, Marah, Sondos and Mutaz have also gained a lot of experience. Each day all the volunteers meet and debrief the day’s activities and discuss the problems they faced. They talk about the importance of remaining positive and supportive for one another. They describe YMCA as a “second home”.
“This is where we meet, where we discuss, where we laugh and share our frustrations. We come here every day and we live out our slogan, which is ‘to love each other’. This is our family.”