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Spirit of Sumud – Cultural Tourism in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 20.02.2009:

By Raneen Al-ArjaCulture gives a pattern to human activity and creates a unique symbolic structure. Culture is what makes us Palestinian. It shapes and guides our way of life and how we make decisions. It represents our identity, our traditions, and all that makes us unique.Unfortunately, our culture is slowly fading away. The Israeli occupation has robbed us of many of our traditions and cultural riches. The older Palestinian generations pass away or slip into a world of forgetfulness while the younger generations are often enticed into obsession with all things modern. Moreover, we lack documentation of the valuable information that exists about our ancestors, and only a few people are involved in keeping the past alive.For these reasons, and in line with other efforts in the country, the Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows) in Bethlehem has developed a cultural tourism programme that gives Palestinians the possibility to actively share their cultural heritage with visitors. Called Spirit of Sumud, the programme gives centre stage to the Palestinian culture of the land. Sumud, steadfastness or resilience, is about the deep connection that exists between Palestinians in cities, villages, and camps and their land, culture, and identity, and how, despite the terrible situation, Palestinians are determined to stay in Palestine, challenge the odds, foster a sense of hope, and work diligently to build a better future. In this way they will prove to the occupation authorities that despite checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall, and an accumulation of daily life problems, they will not yield.The programme, set to begin in April 2009, will present Palestinian heritage in vivid ways, through traditional dance, storytelling, drama performances, traditional songs, and handicrafts. Such activities strengthen the oral historical and cultural narratives of the Palestinian people, which in turn enrich the written ones. The activities will be incorporated into a tour around cities and villages in the Bethlehem area in order to provide international tourists with in-depth cultural information about the region and enhance their experience of this multi-faith Holy Land.In addition, the Spirit of Sumud programme will also target Palestinian school students of varying ages in order to encourage cultural education and growth in self-understanding and identity. Students will participate in tours and interactive, creative sessions that foster experiential learning, in contrast to the static, rote-learning methods presently in practice in local schools.Members of AEI’s youth and women’s groups participate in various training courses in drama and storytelling, and are given the opportunity to meet with guest lecturers who introduce them to various subjects about Palestine and the importance and value of the land. Women, in particular, will benefit from this programme as it builds on their gifts and skills as the most important bearers and transmitters of heritage stories and customs. The programme aims not only to enrich their knowledge but will also be a modest source of income generation.For more information about the programme, please visit www.spiritofsumud.ps. Raneen Al-Arja is the public relations officer of AEI’s cultural tourism programme. She can be contacted at ralarja@aeicenter.org. This Week in Palestine February 2009

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