by Will Tantoco
Will Tantoco is serving as an intern-assistant in the Communications and Development Department of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
As part of the application process to the George Mason University’s Center for Global Education program, I was asked to write a brief essay on my field of interest. Professor Yehuda Lukacs, Coordinator of the Israel/Palestine Internship and Director of the Center for Global Education, suggested Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom (WAS/NS). After reading and watching videos via the Internet, I quickly became interested in learning how this village, which is dedicated to peace, works.
Established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the village is an intentional community of Arabs and Jews living together peacefully. Today, there are approximately 57 resident families in the community. Their primary school (K-6th grade) teaches the day’s lessons in both Hebrew and Arabic. They also observe both people's holidays, so that neither side is left out. They stress the importance of community with the backdrop of retaining one’s culture. Currently, students from neighboring villages are bused into WAS/NS because their parents want them to receive a good education while learning about the other’s traditions and language. According to some former students, the Arab-Jewish conflict was never a real issue. However, once students leave WAS/NS and go onto their respective middle schools and high schools, they begin realize society's social conflict.
Everyone in the community has been very welcoming. The village is very remote (compared to the suburbs I’m used to) but peaceful. After all, translated, Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom translates into English as, “The Oasis of Peace.” It has one of the best views that I have seen in my life.
As an intern in the Communications and Development Office, there is always a lot to do. I sometimes feel as though because I have such a short time here, that there is little into which I can really get my hands. Thus far, my responsibilities have been editing proposals for fundraising, researching grants and calling embassies for funding. My supervisors, Ahmad Hijazi and Faryal Awan, have been very helpful in showing me the ropes and giving me an in-depth understanding of how the village operates. Most of the funding for the community's infrastructure, including the school, comes from personal and organizational donations. As the school does not receive funding from the government, it relies on tuition fees and donations in order to stay open.
I feel as though in addition to learning from my job, I have been learning as much from interacting with the many people that I have met throughout the village. It is funny to meet with a group of young adults in the village with whom I joke around, hang out and smoke shisha. Later, I meet and work with their parents who are local officials, principals, or teachers in the village.
We are required to keep a journal for our program, but often times I find myself jotting down little notes – names, words in Arabic or Hebrew, or any sort of “moment” I feel needs to be recorded. Overall, the time has been very enjoyable. I know the rest of my stay here will be great and I hope to learn more as the time passes.