Three MAAS students took a break from the rigors of academia in January 2010 and volunteered at the National Children’s Museum’s “Taste of Nablus” event. Also sponsored by Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO), which provides enrichment programs for disadvantaged children in Palestine, the event invited American children to explore Palestinian culture through food, images, and narratives of children’s lives in Nablus.
In total, 148 adults and 128 children attended the program, which included a performance by George Mason University’s ASA Dabka Dance Troupe, traditional Palestinian crafts, and a spread of hummus, pita, stuffed grape leaves, baklawa, and pita with olive oil and za’atar. Also featured were photos of Nablus children aided by TYO, along with descriptions of their daily lives; visitors were given the opportunity to write postcards to them.
CCAS’s Ben Stevenson, Sam Dolbee, and Amanda Roosendahl spent the day writing visitors’ names in Arabic, helping with a Palestinian embroidery craft station, and facilitating activities that showcased Palestinian foods and spices.
“The event generally encouraged children to be curious about different places and cultures,” Dolbee said. “More importantly, it promoted recognition of the humanity of all people.”
Lisa Hershey Zurer, the Museum’s Manager of Cultural Programs, agrees, noting that the event was dedicated to “exploring our commonalities and respecting our differences in order to teach children to be tolerant and compassionate toward our neighbors.”
CCAS Director of Educational Outreach Zeina Seikaly, who recruited the MAAS student volunteers and attended the event, added that the program indeed offered a unique teachable moment. “It’s really important for American children to learn about Palestinians beyond what they see on TV and in the movies,” she said. “Programs such as this one go a long way toward informing them that the Palestinians are real people, just like them, and have very similar needs, hopes, and dreams.”
The future may see more beneficial exchanges between MAAS students and the Museum. Says Hershey Zurer: “We hope to work with CCAS and its students again!”