Hi, my name is Sharon and I’m a volunteer at Castlerigg and taking part in the CAFOD Step into the Gap programme. As part of the Step into the Gap programme, we were privileged to visit CAFOD’s partners in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. One of the highlights from this trip for me was visiting CAFOD’s education partner, Sadaka Reut.

Sadaka Reut is a bi-national organisation established in 1983 bringing Palestinian and Jewish students together and encouraging them to be one voice to speak up about social and political change in society. Students have the opportunity to take part in various projects that involve working with the community and creating partnerships by promoting education, awareness, and action. This is achieved by reflecting and understanding the injustices arising from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and creating a new generation of citizens and leaders towards a future based on the values of equality, solidarity, and friendship.

We had the opportunity to meet a group of seven Jewish Scouts and two Palestinian students who were taking part in one of Sadaka Reut’s programmes, Community in Action. This is a year-long programme in which students live together in community, and their role involves being part of sessions where they learn about politics and social issues, being counsellors, and helping out in school activities. We were intrigued to learn about the students work and life in Sadaka, and started to identify many similarities in youth work between Sadaka and our placements.

One of the similarities found in youth work in both countries is the volunteer’s motivation to make a positive difference in society and for the individuals we encounter. The reason why I love conducting retreats is meeting so many young people who come from different backgrounds, each with their own unique story, and it’s inspiring to see how they use their gifts and talents to be a positive impact in society. Retreat sessions in prayer, games, and outdoor activities make young people aware of how they can be a better person and make a positive change to their schools and communities. This value is also shared in Sadaka Reut. Noya, one of the volunteers says “Everyone realises that closing the gap comes from our understanding of each other”. The combination of encountering others and their cultures creates partnership. This shows how when we encounter each other it opens our minds to acknowledging our differences and success is gained from working together.

Another similarity is community living. The Jewish and Palestinians students live together during the course of the year. This is similar in our placements as I get to live with seven other volunteers, an experience I have not had before. I have had the opportunity to meet amazing people and share many joys over our individual, funny personalities, bringing so much colour and diversity to the team, whilst learning so much from each other. The scouts also share similar views. They mentioned that Noa from the team, was the messiest. She really enjoys this experience because she was able to meet people she may not have met before. Sihalm, another volunteer says it has been difficult to work with the seven volunteers in the community, but she does feel like she is part of the group. We can see that community life at times can be challenging, but it also a blessing.

A difference in youth work is the aims and goals set in the organisation. At Sadaka Reut, youth work and education revolves around educating young people about building bridges between the Jewish and Palestinian community, breaking the stereotypes, taboos and injustices. Understanding the commonalities that bring the two groups together, rather than what sets them apart. Whereas, at Castlerigg the aim of the retreats is to allow the young people to understand how they can use their faith, gifts and talents, to make society a better place, and an opportunity to try new skills and hobbies.

Another difference in youth work between UK and Sadaka is the reasons why the volunteers chose to do a year of voluntary service. One of the reasons the Jewish Scouts decided to do CIA was because they wanted to do a year of voluntary service before they joined the army. Another reason for joining Sadaka was to get an exposure of the reality other groups are going through in society.  Illy, one of the volunteers says “I come from a Jewish background, growing up I was only exposed to Jewish education, radio, and television but I wanted to hear the other side. I acknowledge humanity and want to feel their life experiences in person”. You can sense that the students are inside a political circumference and they want to go deeper and beyond that to gain new insights. 

There are many reasons why the students volunteer at Castlerigg. For some it is an opportunity to think about their direction in life, particularly as they finish college or university. For others it is the opportunity to gain experience that will help them in their future, if they want to pursue a career in a faith based environment, or simply to gain experience working with young people, or doing something out of their comfort zone that they have not done before. But at the heart of it is the motivation to make a positive difference, to give something back.

Seeing how CAFOD’S support makes a change in these young people’s lives inspires me. It has taught me,  that despite the challenges we face from society or any other restrictions, if you have the will, commitment and positive mind-set social change through partnership can be brought about.