After six weeks of gathering information on the Auja Municipality in Palestine and FoEME’s Auja Environmental Education Center and Neighbor’s path for my internship projects, I finally got to visit last week. I joined a group of students from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, who were visiting on a 2-week tour studying the geography of Israel.
The trip was particularly meaningful because with this group of students I got see the Auja Center fulfill its purpose. Groups of students are part of the target audience for the Center, with the goal of educating about water resources and environmental based peace building. Beyond that, we all felt a warm welcome from the Auja community through greetings, great food, and accommodation. A meal of local food prepared by a group from the Women’s Center of Auja was waiting for us when we arrived, the staff at the center made sure we had everything we needed, and children waved from the roof of the neighboring girl’s school in the morning.
Touring the natural site of the Auja Spring was bittersweet. Amazing landscapes were accompanied with Iyad’s, a FoEME Project Coordinator from the Bethlehem office, explanation of the unbalanced allocation of the mountain aquifer’s water between Israelis and Palestinians. We saw Palestinians filling water barrels from the Auja Spring upstream of where it’s collected for (its lopsided) distribution. The lack of public trash collection accounted for the amount of garbage we saw at the sides of the roads. I could not help imagining how my life would change under the conditions the Auja residents are given. Back at the Auja Center, the rooftop was a great place to hang out, look out to the lights of the village, and talk about what we had seen that day.
After the trip I had a much better understanding of what the significance of Auja Center. It is not simply a guesthouse; it really is an education center. This type of trip is mutually beneficial for the visitor’s and Auja community. The students gain knowledge and perspective, while the community gains many young advocates and spreads it’s message. I’m so thankful for this experience and the hospitality at the Auja Center.