The youth of the 2012 "Know Thy Heritage" Leadership Program set foot in their homeland for the first time on Monday, July 9. They were welcomed joyfully into Bethlehem by the local boy scout and girl scout bands, which led them through the streets to Manger Square, where the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem city, Mr. George Sa'adeh, and the DeputyGovernor of Bethlehem district, Mr. Mohammad Taha greeted them in a welcoming ceremony attended by the residents of Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
Sir Rateb Rabie, President/CEO of HCEF, explains that this journey was far from easy; many of the youth delegates have been travelling for several days, from as far away as Australia and California. Even after gathering together in Amman, Jordan on July 7, 2012, there were more challenges awaiting them.
"The group was delayed for over 7 hours at the King Hussein Bridge as they tried to enter, with the Israeli security forces questioning some youth as many as 3 separate times," says Rabie, "but I'm proud to say they were not discouraged, and grew only more determined to share this experience in solidarity with their brothers and sisters living under occupation in Palestine."
Hadeel Abunadi, a Palestinian youth who grew up in San Diego but whose family is from Al Lud, expressed the yearning for home that carried them through, the yearning to have "Palestine… completely in our arms as we do in our hearts!"
Following their journey and welcome in Bethlehem, the Delegation continued their exploration yesterday of Palestine's past and present, and looked to her future.
They visited the historical Church of the Nativity, touching the stone where Jesus Christ was born. They later met with students at Bethlehem University, learning how Palestinians today are striving in pursuit of an education, despite the restrictions imposed by occupation.
Their first full day in Palestine concluded with a visit to Aida Refugee Camp, where the Delegates were honored to present the camp's youth soccer team with brand new uniforms, as well as cleats and shin guards, as a gift from the 2011 KTH Alumni who forged a lasting friendship with the camp's children last summer. In spite of the hardships of camp life, the residents exuberantly celebrated the visit of their countrymen and women with traditional Palestinian food and dabke dance.
Dana Chamma, a KTH Delegate originally from Safood, but now living Melbourne, Australia, was struck by their shared identity, as she looked around her and realized that "the people are just like us…down to earth… just like me, we are of the same nation."
The experience of KTH is already changing the futures of its delegates. Rachel Holzrichter, a college student from Chicago, Illinois, but rooted in Birzeit, excitedly declared at the close of the day that she hopes to come back and volunteer in Palestine next summer.
Rabie explains that KTH can build a better future for all who live in the Holy Land, and not just for its participants. "By training these youth to be Ambassadors of Peace as well as Ambassadors of Palestine to the countries where they live, we can move from ignorance and fear to understanding and acceptance. We can build a future where two peoples and three great faiths live side by side in peace."
HCEF developed and launched the KTH program in 2011, with the support of the Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), Bank of Palestine (BOP), Paltel Group, and other institutions and individuals who together are the leading partners of KTH in Palestine.
See complete information about the "Know Thy Heritage" Leadership Program, on our webpage, where supporters can donate to the program, and youth can learn how to apply. KTH is now accepting application requests for our next journey in June-July 2013!