Dinner in Balata
January 28, 2010
— Balata Refugee Camp, community, tomorrow's youth organization, triple exposure
Ever since coming back from our winter holiday, everyone has been busy preparing for the upcoming semester. Between planning classes and getting together materials there has been little free time, but the other day, Doris and I had the opportunity to have dinner with some of our students in Balata refugee camp. I hadn’t been back to Balata since the first time I went there nearly nine months ago. The combination of it being a rainy night and the fact that I hadn’t been back in so long made it a particularly powerful experience. As we drove into the camp, all I could see was what was revealed by the taxi’s headlights, mainly puddles and houses stacked one of top of the other like storage space. There were small groups of young men here and there but the rain had forced almost everyone in doors for the evening, forcing you to look at Balata in a naked state: graffiti, cinderblock walls and narrow passageways. Finally the taxi stopped and a little girl came running towards the car, the little girl was Labiba, a talented and sweet girl from my art class last semester. She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek when I got out of the cab and eagerly grabbed my hand to show us the way to her house. Basma, who, though a woman in her forties is Labiba’s step-sister, was waiting at the front door to welcome us in for dinner. With her were about thirteen children, all curious to see who we were and what we were doing there.
We entered the house and were taken into a living room where we sat and talked to Basma before eating. All thirteen children tried to follow us into the room and others stood by the door looking in. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and yet one couldn’t help but think about living the way they do. There were so many children and yet there was so little space. It made you wonder how the kids get any individual attention or how the grownups ever have any personal space. Though I had discussed many of the challenges my students have had–from lack of motivation to discipline problems–before, it wasn’t until going to Balata the other night that I felt I could begin to really understand where these challenges come from. It also gave me a better understanding of what Triple Exposure offers these kids and their families and how important that is. The Triple Exposure program at TYO provides a space where these children can not only play but also get personalized attention and support to explore their creative side. Overall it was an important experience for me and, in the future, I’m going to try to go to the camps more regularly because I think to understand your students, it’s important to understand where they come from.