Today's blog post is written by Emily, a member of the 2019-2020 Yahel Social Change Fellowship. Emily is living and volunteering for 9 months in Lod.
“Emily! How was your weekend? We missed you!” said the sweet students of Dar Al-Hakma high school located in Lod, Israel— a city that I now call home. For the next nine months, I will teach English at this high school, among several other projects I plan to carry out in the city of Lod. But why is it that I refer to Lod as ‘home’ rather than a temporary nine-month placement? Why is it that I am so adamant about total community immersion? And why is it so significant to create strong bonds with the residents of Lod? Allow me to elaborate.
In order to plan and implement an effective community project or intervention, building trust within the community is of utmost importance. It’s a personal belief of mine that the best way to gain the trust of any community is through learning to live like the local residents of that community. Authenticity and curiosity about the local customs and culture are vital for creating and strengthening relationships with the residents of that community. It’s beautiful to see how people blossom when you try to speak to them in their native language. It’s pleasant to indulge in the delicious cuisine of a neighborhood restaurant. It’s worthwhile to sit with local residents and listen to the various narratives they have to tell about what the city of Lod means to them. It’s charming to shop in the local stores to pick out a unique blouse detailed with intricately hand-sewn patterns. And most importantly, it’s essential to reside among members of the community that I intend to interact with for the duration of my volunteer service in Lod.
A personal opinion of mine is that community needs and the ability to feasibly meet the needs of the community can only truly be assessed when one is actively living within said community.
Proactively getting involved in the community has generated numerous opportunities to build genuine relationships with my neighbors. My interest in the wellbeing of the city of Lod is made apparent through my actions, and that has not gone unnoticed. “Wait! Would you like to join our community Catchball team?”, said a neighbor who saw me running and stopped to have a conversation with me about sports while I was stretching afterwards. “Certainly!”, I responded – knowing that I had no clue how to play the sport and that all directions and coaching for it would be spoken in a language unfamiliar to me, a challenge I readily accepted.
Since then, I have connected with many of the women of Lod. These women have been patient and kind as I struggle to gain familiarity with the sport that unites us. They have also shared stories about how they ended up in Lod, their employment in Lod, as well as concerns for the city that would not have originally been intuitive to me if it weren’t for my conversations with them. This has allowed me to gain insight on issues in the community through the lens of a local, and helped me understand how imperative it is to consider local opinions when evaluating community problems and preparing for potential unintended consequences when implementing an intervention.
Listening to, engaging in, and providing feedback for shared stories has been priceless in gaining perspective from the community of Lod. First-hand exposure to residents’ concerns, beliefs, opinions, and values has served as a crucial role in constructing project ideas that focus on core community needs. Total immersion within the city of Lod has not only provided me with the opportunity to work as efficiently as possible, but it has been equally as rewarding with the personal relationships, reciprocated emotional connections, and support system that I have become part of in the short time that I have called this city my home. As cliché as it may read, I already feel that this city has given more to me than I have been able to provide for it. I am certain that the memories I make in Lod will be cherished for years to come. I intend to contribute towards, and have faith in the lasting sustainability, of both newly implemented community projects and blossoming friendships formed from the opportunities that the Yahel Social Change Fellowship has blessed me with in the city of Lod. Why is that? Because I believe that integration is key.