Tent of Nations 2019 [9]: Conclusions and Further Thoughts

5:05 pm, August 28th, Wesley House

The research that I did was community based participatory research: I went into a community willing to learn and grow from the people whom I met, and I was able to share what I knew as well, and provide my resources and build a partnership with Tent of Nations I hope to sustain through my presence here at William and Mary and with faith groups around Williamsburg. 

I learned a lot about what it means to be a good advocate, and how to be receptive to justice tourism. It takes a lot more than just being informed about political issues and travelling to the region to be an effective volunteer tourist; being a good tourist in this regard also requires you to own your privilege and be comfortable with allowing locals to talk about their own experience and lead you through the lives they live each day. Being a community partner and justice tourist means that you don’t allow yourself to feel entitled to the community’s stories, but rather by listening, see the dignity and strength in the community that can be employed in a way that’s sustainable and beneficial for their needs for years to come. 

I’ve also been able to explore better now what interests me in the field of clinical psychology. There is an existing field of research that substantiates the idea that political resistance and protest can help bolster self-efficacy and resilience among children and youth in conflict-stricken areas (Veronese et al. 2012; Veronese, Said, & Castiglioni, 2011; Gilligan, 2009). In these areas, where the construct of mental illness is not accessible, where the idea of trauma differs widely from what I’ve been taught in my Western biomedical understanding of psychology, and where mental health clinics aren’t common enough for individual treatment to be effective regardless, the fact that resistance can be cultivated to boost community mental health and individual well-being is incredibly meaningful. It’s also something I was so fortunate to witness. There we were, standing in the sight of all of the settlers on the hill, putting on a play about Malala, wearing a kefiyah and speaking Arabic and preaching equality and love, and having so much fun in the face of a very visible oppressive force. The existence of a summer camp at Tent of Nations–a piece of land beinging to a Palestinian family that has had to fight for over twenty years just to continue their livelihood–is a testament to the unexpected power of joyful resistance. 

Another thing I hadn’t expected but was so pleased to learn was that summer camping is actually fairly common in the West Bank. Daoud and I had an extensive conversation about camp programs in the West Bank, and how and why they operate. Most of them are indoors, in a large rented building with enough space to play, and have Palestinian staff. This was reminiscent of a conversation I had with Grace’s friend, who started a camp in Lebanon within an indoor recreation center to gain enough money to immigrate to the US. 

Tent of Nations’s model is different, first because it’s entirely outdoors, and attempts to bring to the Palestinian children a sense of connection with their ancestral land (as that feeling has been somewhat robbed from them, especially those who are the children of refugees). Tent of Nations also hosts international volunteers, and does so very intentionally: international volunteers have the capacity to take the stories they hear back with them to a nation which usually has more power to do something, and they have to special ability to allow the children to lead, and to assure children that there are people all over the world that love them. 

I absolutely fell in love with community psychology while on this trip, and I have felt so inspired in all of my thinking about graduate school, my research, and my goals while on this journey. This is certainly more than just a tourist trip, and it will influence the ways I view clinical-community psychology for the rest of my career in research. 

Thanks, once again, to the Charles Center and the Sharpe Community Scholars Program for the ability to explore this opportunity; I truly would not be here without the support of these influential pieces of my William & Mary education.