Founded in 2003, the Refugee Camp Project is a student-led collaboration between Palestinian and international medical students, which aims to promote learning about conflict, healthcare, and life in Palestinian refugee camps. Each August, a group of international medical students have the unique opportunity to visit the West Bank as guests of IFMSA Palestine.
In August 2014, a smaller group of international students than usual participated in ReCap, as the Gaza war was on-going. Inspired by their experiences in the West Bank, these participants worked throughout the year to develop and improve organisation, including the internal feedback and handover processes. With 90 applications from around the world, spanning from Singapore to the USA, selection of new participants was a significant undertaking! Such enthusiasm for the project was encouraging, and given the high standard of applications selecting just twelve was a challenge.
The 3rd of August 2015 saw medical students from seven countries (UK, Ireland Spain, Portugal, Germany, Slovenia and Turkey) converging on the Old City of Jerusalem. Whilst eager to embrace the adventure and experience as much as possible, there was some apprehension. Many of us worried the conflict was so complicated, we might be out of our depth. The first phase of the project addressed these fears, as we spent a week based in Jerusalem Al-Quds University learning about the historical context of the occupation, about Palestinian culture, and some basic Arabic. Briefings from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and several NGOs gave us a variety of perspectives, and a starting point for organising our thoughts about all we were to see and hear through the course of the month.
The second phase of the project brought us to Bethlehem, where our time was split between hospital clinics in the mornings, and organising activities for children at a refugee camp in the afternoons. We visited several different hospitals and clinics, always receiving a warm welcome from local staff, and gaining insights into the practice of medicine in Palestine, and challenges faced.
ReCap 2015 was an incredible experience for all the participants. Hearing first-hand accounts of the everyday realities of living under occupation was challenging, and the international participants have returned to our home countries with a real sense of connection to the Palestinian cause, and a desire to share our experiences of life in the West Bank, and advocate for the protection of human rights.
Our response to this experience is shaped not only by suffering and injustice, but by the beauty and generosity we experienced. Having made friends with our Palestinian hosts, spent many hours smoking shisha together, and drinking more cups of Arabic coffee than we can count, we feel a real connection to the West Bank. All now back to their home countries and back to medical school, this year’s twelve participants have begun planning for August 2016, eager to see to on-going success and improvement of ReCap, as well as seeking opportunities to share our experiences within our own countries. All participants would like to extend their warm thanks to the sponsors of the project and IPPNW for making this experience possible.