The Al’ Amari Palestinian Refugee camp was established by the Red cross and the UN in the late 1949, in the center of Ramallah. Directly outside of this camp is a UN girls school, which serves over 700 girls who come in from the camp every day. Unlike many other kids of “ Refugee Camps”, this camp is composed of huge concrete Apartment blocks which have housed upwards of 3 generations of Palestinians, which have been in this “waiting room” camp for over half a century . The American Consulate General has an America House in Ramallah, and wanted to create a wall mural in the local refugee school, and a canvas for permanent display in the America House in Ramallah. However, on the day before the project, a local palestinian teenager was killed in a rioted conflict with the Israeli Military. This postponed the project for a week, and illuminates the status of the region.
As the conciliate vehicle passed over the check-point from Modiin,(Central Israel), with landscaping similar to Los Angeles, within 10 meters, one felt like they were in a different world, and a different country. Driving through the hectic and congested streets of down-town Ramallah, ended outside the front Al’Amari Refugee camp. When we arrived to the school flooded with girls, the excitement was tangible. As we had a conversation with the strong-willed principle, the feeling was of a stern encouragement. The theme was to be of anti-violence against women and female abuse within the local community, a prominent issue in the camp. As we presented this theme to the teenage girls, the drawings birthed a strong torrent of violent abuse as a commonality between the girls. Images ranged from women being beaten, faces with bruises and blood and women kneeling in prayer amongst the cactus. Along with this darkness, was the hope of a butterfly pulling a chained house with the chain snapped.
The final idea was to have a balance in the middle. One side had cactus, to represent waiting of the women and the Palestinian people, making up a sad girls face. All of the images of abuse and violence were on this side of the scale. On the other side is a group of girls with the hope for the future through a butterfly flying with a broken chain attaching to a community of houses below. As the image came into fruition, the response was of emense surprised that the girls could compete such a positive monument to their life situation in a single day.
The strongest impact of the project was the response of the Art teacher and the principle. Both stressed a desire to make this model of collaboration sustainable, and to continue painting the whole school. This is the most powerful response adults can have to this kind of initiative. As the painting finished, there were 4 girls who refused to stop painting to the last drop, embracing every last second of the experience. As the Sky-Blue anti-bombing letters of the “UN” Peeked above the colorful wall. The radiant nature of the completion left something special, a reminder that these girls are the future women who deserve a future without abuse. Before departing, one of the teenage girls started speaking quickly and radiantly in arabic and said “ I feel like I have found myself through the paint” with the nods of the other three around her, the girls walked away back to the refugee camp, giggling.