For my pre-dissertation research I spent almost three months in Amman, Jordan this past summer. While my research broadly aims to examine the material practices and visions of the future of the Palestinian youth living in and out of refugee camps in Amman, human rights and humanitarian aid regimes are crucial in tackling how young Palestinian refugees’ social and economic practices are mediated along with gender, camp/non-camp distinction and class. The Lisa Sable-Brown Fund helped me to spend more time in Amman than I initially envisioned and pushed me to refine my preliminary observations that I had made during the summer of 2015. My time in Amman allowed me to establish links with various Palestinian youth living in and outside of refugee camps, and with institutions that serve refugee youth. More specifically, I have established links with two community-based organizations in New Amman (Al-Wihdat) and Baqa’a refugee camps, where I volunteered teaching English and conducted informal focus-group interviews with Palestinian refugee youth and their families about their relationship to humanitarian organizations.
This experience helped me to start to understand a number of issues. First of all, contrary to what I expected, Palestinians living outside the camps also participate in projects conducted by institutions from within the camps. One reason for this seems to be the movement of camp families to the outskirts of the camps once families grow, and if their budget allows, they settle in informal houses to escape the camp’s substandard, overcrowded and noisy housing conditions. Having lived in the camp, they still have ties with it through family networks or through NGOs and aid institutions. Secondly, it helped me learn, and discuss with local project managers, about the ways in which the Palestinian refugee community itself organizes for the empowerment of its own vulnerable populations at a moment where aid is more and more strained. For example, one of the community-based organizations I frequented is a self-sustaining women’s center where young children and women from inside and outside the camp learn English, take cosmetology, computer and sewing classes, and receive legal aid at a low, symbolic rate. This not only indicates Palestinian refugee communities’ strategies for self-empowerment, but also the gendered forms this self-empowerment takes on.
Finally, by conducting informal interviews with the youth who frequent the center, I came to understand some of the ways the youth understand the diminishing of resources. Many claimed that UNRWA schools – the UN institution that provides the main forms of assistance to Palestinian refugees – were increasingly having to do more with limited resources, such as operating in a double-shift system in overcrowded classrooms. Some of my contacts went as far as speculating that UNRWA schools might be closed down soon, attributing this concern to Jordan’s receiving large number of Syrian refugees, and to the international community, who is directing its attention to this and other emergency situations in the region.
All in all, this fellowship helped me to refine some of my inquiries in relation to Palestinian refugee youth’s engagement with, and understanding of, humanitarian regimes. The complex relationships between humanitarian institutions in the camps and their Palestinian clients begs for further inquiry. The insight and networks I gained through my work in Amman, aided by the Sable-Brown Fund has prepared me for my dissertation research, which will be carried out over a period of a year and a half, at the beginning of 2017.