Tan Mingwei was an incredibly inquisitive and fearless young medical student from Cambridge University who was actively involved in many community activities and fully committed to helping the less fortunate. To honour her memory, the Tan Mingwei Global Community Service Grant was set up to allow students to carry out meaningful community work in developing countries and be transformed by the experience. National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Year 3 student, Sharifah Nabilah Syed Omar, recounts her experience volunteering in the West Bank helping children in refugee camps.
My one-month stint volunteering with Project Hope in the West Bank has been tremendously fulfilling as I have achieved more than I ever expected. My journey does not end there. I wish to extend the great opportunities given to me by speaking to people and organisations in Singapore in the hope of improving the lives of the children in the refugee camps in the West Bank.
I had chosen to volunteer in the West Bank because I felt that this area has been given little attention by the international community due to fear of the volatility there. To be honest, a few days before my flight, I was apprehensive. However, I am glad that I took the leap and took that flight without a clue of what was ahead and I bulldozed through the uncertainties and the occasional bumps in the road. The road is rough and the world can be dangerous but I have learnt valuable life lessons. I am thankful for the opportunity to see life through the hopeful lenses of children in the refugee camps.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude for the support from the Tan Mingwei Global Community Service Grant for allowing this to happen. I am humbled and I hope I have done justice to the grant by spreading the kindness extended to me. I know that in some intricate ways, the lives of the children of the refugee camps in the West Bank have been moved and inspired by the care given to them from a part of the world they had previously never heard of.
My first assignment was to teach a class in a village called Burin in the outskirts of Nablus. The girls only spoke Arabic, and could neither read nor write in English. Yet, they were enthusiastic about learning and unafraid to make mistakes. We began by learning numbers and the alphabet.
I taught them how to read and write. They taught me that we do not choose the circumstances we are born into but we need to seize every opportunity to improve. These girls barely knew the alphabet but they had more wisdom than me.
Our class was every Sunday and Tuesday at 3pm in a dilapidated old house turned into a classroom the villagers referred to as Markaz Bilal Najah. Each time, we would wait for one of the villagers to come with the key. This day, we waited longer than usual. I desperately rummaged through my bag hoping to find something to keep the children occupied. I found some number stickers and improvised a mathematical game in which the children were assigned to a number and had to pair up to create certain numbers.
We learnt about colours through art. The children who were previously soft-spoken became excited and chatty. They began to behave as regular children would, jumping and running around. I was told that the children had never painted before. This moment was impactful for me because it was then that it occurred to me that the social, political and economic circumstances did not allow them to be children. They had to grow up quickly and see things we wish to protect our children from.
I was also given the great opportunity to conduct football training with these girls from the Askar refugee camp. The experience was phenomenal, as I had not played football since Junior College. I noticed that although none of girls had proper football boots, they each played as if their life depended on it. They were fiercely competitive. I came to the conclusion that anywhere in the world, there is something universally empowering about a group of girls coming together in pursuit of a common goal with the raging fire of passion.
I hope that the children in the refugee camps in the West Bank will continue to be enchanted by the wonders that the universe brings. I hope that by meeting volunteers from all over the world, they will see that there is a big and hopeful world beyond the confines of the refugee camps. I wish the best for them and I hope to continue to play a part in their development.
Source: International Relations Office, www.nus.edu.sg/iro