Having never travelled to Israel or the Middle East before I was extremely excited to be asked to visit and photograph some of the Pears programmes in the region.
I arrived for my whistlestop tour on Tuesday March 1st, greeted at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv by Israel representative Dina Gidron. Over the next 3 days Dina and I would capture over 1300 images of 8 inspiring Pears Foundation funded programmes.
Here are just a few highlights from my trip:
The first programme I visited was an evening event for The International Youth Award for Young People at a school in the city of Ra’anana.
The IYA is part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award’s international network. It’s a self-development programme for 14 – 24 year olds throughout Israel. The event was a recycling activity with award participants and adults with special needs. Upon arrival I was immediately aware at how enthusiastic, engaged and committed they all were, nobody was glued to a phone or looking vacant and disinterested. Organised in groups, they were given various activities and projects to do as a team. They interacted brilliantly with one another and included the adults in their discussions and activities with real compassion and care. It was extremely inspiring and clear to see just how much these young adults were getting from such an inclusive, empowering programme.
On Wednesday I was lucky enough to visit Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, a school that brings over 650 children from different cultures and religions together under one roof. Visiting and observing classes run with a Jewish, Christian and Muslim teacher, seeing children of different faiths learning with and about each other, forming strong relationships that they will then take back to their families and communities was extremely inspiring and surely a model for the future of this area that is fraught with tension and conflict.
Thursday began with a journey South to visit AJEEC-NISPED’s programmes. We began with a tour of the Alsanabel Catering Center, a social enterprise run by local Bedouin women providing 7,000 hot lunches daily to Bedouin schools in the area. With noses full of beautiful aromas and stomachs rumbling we then travelled on to visit the Abu Qwaider Health Project. This was part of an Arab Women’s Health activist group in an unrecognised Bedouin village near Rahat. Approximately 120,000 Bedioun live in unrecognizsed villages, communities whose construction is considered illegal by the state and therefore lack basic social services such as electricity, access roads and running water. There are currently 16 Women’s Health Activist groups reaching 510 women. Topics for the groups include diabetes, child nutrition, breast cancer detection, post partum depression and exercise.
On this visit we were there to see a group of women receive their completion certificates. The village was in squalor, it reminded me more of villages I had visited in third world countries, certainly not something I expected to see in Israel. We walked through the mud, litter, washing lines and makeshift shelters to a small house and sat beneath rusted corrugated iron on a tiled floor with a group of 15 Bedoiun women. I sat watching these inspiring women light up with pride and joy as they received their certificates. It was great to watch but extremely frustrating for me as a photographer, as in one of the most visually interesting places I’d visited, it was clear that these women did not want to be photographed. Initially shielding their faces and turning backs whenever I lifted the lens, after gentle coaxing by Dina the ladies slowly let their guard down and allowed me to take a few shots. The longer we were there and the more we spoke, the more they relaxed and by the time we had to leave they were having a great time posing and asking me to take shots of them with their children!
Overall it was an incredible experience, the passion and devotion of the staff and volunteers, the commitment, enthusiasm and diversity of the students, the sites, smells and sounds of the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and certainly the security checks at the airport on my departure from Tel Aviv will stay with me for a long while!
I’d like to thank Dina and all my models for their assistance and patience and also Pears Foundation for this amazing opportunity. I am proud of my photographs and hope they do the programmes justice; it was an extremely inspiring trip.