Samantha Sikder, Class of 2014

Major: Government; Organization: Lajee Center, Environmental Education Center; Location: Aida Refugee Camp, Palestine

Samantha Sikder, Class of 2014

At first, the exchanges were small: my English words for their Arabic, Mejdool dates for lentil soup, secrets about neighbors for stories of home. Eventually it led to the opening of doors—to living rooms, to ideas, and to stories of loss, conflict, and hope. Living in the refugee camp where the Lajee Center was located, my job did not end when I left the center. Most of the leaning happened in taxis, at friends' homes, sharing in the daily triumphs and travails as my Palestinian colleagues. However, my American identity and their fracture Palestinian one, set us apart. No matter what, I could leave and they could not. I could board a bus and visit their ancestral villages, but they were forbidden from ever doing so.

During the week and a half long summer camp for children of Aida, they learned my name and I learned about resilience and about living life to right wrongs. I talked to them about storytelling, convinced that if everyone could meet these children and hear their stories, the world would be a different place. So, I set about interviewing my neighbors and created a blog so that people all over the world could access their stories.

Ramadan began at the beginning of July. The steady routine of daily life came to a grinding halt. Interviews became more difficult, activities at the center lessened significantly. I began interning at the Environmental Education Center nearby and in need of my help.

The grounds surrounding the Environmental Education Center are silent during the summer months but for the call to prayer and constant chirping of various birds. However, reminders of the conflict are never hard to find. From the top of the hill on which it is situated, you can view the surrounding land interrupted by highways and the winding concrete barrier that divides the land into irrational shapes. The EEC seeks to raise awareness on the dire environmental situation in Palestine. It focuses on youth programs to promote a sustainable future while also offering respite from the daily reality of military occupation.

At the EEC, through grant writing and working with children and considerable reading, I learned about the use of community to resist. Through building strong communities and educating the decision makers of tomorrow, a more just and peaceful world can be attained. Large scale issues of international security, conflict and environmental destruction can be addressed simultaneously through educating our communities and protecting the environment.

I look forward to using the ideas I have learned from this summer experience to affect change and create a world where peace and justice can be attained, through focusing on community and education.