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Life as a Volunteer in the Peace Village

Saturday 25 August 2007, by Kevin Dürr

My name is Kevin Dürr. I am 20 years old and from Frankfurt (Oder) in East Germany. I was a volunteer at the Primary School of Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam from September 2006 to August 2007. I chose to volunteer in the village as part of my Civil Service required by the German State. I discovered the village through a friend from my hometown who is also a former NSWAS volunteer. I was amazed by the philosophy of the village, especially by the fact that they don’t try to make everybody the same or “equals.” They allow people to live together, while retaining their own cultures and differences. This, I believe, is the true challenge.

My duties in the Primary School ranged from cleaning or repairing the facilities to escorting the children on field trips. The teachers really try to educate the children on their own identities and collective culture and history. Instead of only focusing on their similarities, they wanted to strengthen the children’s own self-identities. This is important because it allows children to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. When you are secure in your own skin, you are more willing to respect and tolerate other people’s differences.

Outside my work in the Primary School, I felt very well integrated into the village. I discovered that a large majority of the families in the village were extremely welcoming and hospitable. A week wouldn’t go by without me being invited over for a dinner or a cup of coffee. I even felt as though I was a semi-member of the family in some of the homes I frequently visited. Not only was this an enjoyable pastime for me, I realized that these visits offered me a deeper understanding of the country – its culture, society, history and modern-day politics.

I never expected the high standard of living as a volunteer, as we were fully equipped with air-conditioning and wireless Internet in the volunteer house. I can’t imagine that volunteers at other places have such living conditions. It didn’t fit into my picture of volunteer work, where I imagined you would “get your hands dirty” doing hard manual labor and live under simple living conditions. This is not the case at NSWAS. With so many volunteers, researchers, and other visitors from all corners of the world coming to live, work, study and/or just visit the village, you increase your horizons in many ways. Not only do you meet all these interesting people, you learn a great amount of information and new ideas. On the other hand, you see a lot of people coming and going, so it often became difficult to say goodbye to so many close friends and acquaintances.

The surrounding region of the village, the fields and the mountains and the forest; it is truly a remarkable sight. Even while the location of Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam is directly in the center of the country near Latroun Monastery, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it is often difficult for volunteers to leave spontaneously because they depend on public transportation. A volunteer should expect to live and work primarily in the village, only leaving once or twice a week to other locations throughout the country.

I really, really appreciate the time that I spent in Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam. If given the opportunity, I would do it all over again. Thank you to the residents of Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam for making my experience such a positive one.

(Thanks to Shelby Port in producing this article)

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