Palestinian territories: Oday Abu Karsh, founder of the organisation ‘REFORM’

Oday Abu Karsh, founder of the organisation ‘REFORM’ in the Palestinian territories

Palestinian society is divided by prejudice and segregated urban districts. Only rarely do the residents of the refugee camps and the surrounding communities encounter each other in their daily lives. With his organization REFORM, Oday Abu Karsh brings them together at the same table and works to achieve stronger social cohesion. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, GIZ is supporting him in his efforts to increase the social participation of the Palestinian younger generation mainly refugees.

Why is your work so important?

With our workshops we create places and events that allow people from refugee camps - mainly younger people and women – to work together with their peers from the surrounding areas to enhance their level of participation in the public sphere. We also invite mayors and other officials to join in.

What was your upbringing like?

I come from a place near Hebron, and for most of my childhood I had to live in a tent because of an Israeli military order. My brothers were all in prison. I am therefore proud of my personal development from a young man who had experienced a lot of violence, to a father and professional who works towards a more inclusive Palestinian society.

What impact does this have on your work today?

Today, I am working peacefully and constructively to achieve greater cohesion in my society. Together with GIZ, I have built up a network of more than 600 young volunteers in less than two years. At our regular meetings we are developing solutions to counteract the growing exclusion at all levels of Palestinian society.

What challenges does Palestinian society face?

Social differences have become greater over the last two decades. Many Palestinians who fled into exile more than 60 years ago still live in refugee camps. A parallel society has emerged since they use different hospitals and schools run by the United Nations that cannot offer the same standard as their public or private counterparts. Refugees do not receive proper services so the water supply during summer and electricity during winter is interrupts for weeks.

What is your response to this?

With my staff, I am working to overcome prejudices and encourage Palestinian refugees to participate more. We have provided training to 40 young people from the refugee camps, who are now working together with mixed youth groups. They get involved in their respective neighbourhoods and in the refugee camps by making house calls, for example, or by organising discussions.

The headquarters of the organisation REFORM is in Ramallah. From here, Oday Abu Karsh coordinates the projects together with his nine colleagues.

Thanks to his own life experiences, Oday Abu Karsh is familiar with the problems that exist between Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian population.

Refugee camps in Palestinian towns are not recognisable as such at first glance. Today they look like normal, though somewhat poorer urban neighbourhoods.

Oday Abu Karsh knows how constricting the narrow alleys of the refugee camp can be. Through his work he is making space for peaceful exchanges.

REFORM is active in 15 of the 19 refugee camps and is supported by 600 volunteers throughout the Palestinian Territories.

Oday Abu Karsh gathers together young people in unusual places, and he supports them in developing goals and prospects for their lives.

The organisation uses various methods. In storytelling sessions, young people from different parts of town learn how to resolve conflicts constructively.

To relax, Oday Abu Karsh likes to play cards with his friends in the evening.

His vision is for refugees to also get actively involved in Palestinian public life.