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Register Members on Placement: Peter Last in Palestine with the Freedom Theatre

18 April 2018

Register Member Peter Last joined our community of finance professionals in 2003 and completed his fourth placement through the recruitment service last year. Peter recently caught up with us to tell us about his time in the Jenin Refugee Camp, Palestine, where he completed a short-term consultancy with The Freedom Theatre. Peter recalls his time in the camp with fondness, reflecting on the hospitality he received from staff members and locals, his adventures through Google Translate, and the transformative work of the Freedom Theatre itself. 

Above: a section from the community mural created by participants of The Freedom Theatre's mural class, led by artist Moana Niumeitolu.

Last year I spent several weeks in two visits during January and March in the Jenin Refugee Camp in Palestine doing consultancy work with The Freedom Theatre. The Freedom Theatre is a local grass-roots NGO that works with children, youth and young adults in the Jenin refugee camp, as well as the villages in the northern West Bank, offering training in the arts including acting, pedagogy and photography. I was thrilled when I received the message that there was a consultancy opportunity available in Palestine as I had been hoping to go there for many years so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance.

The assignment was fascinating, not least because of the location. The Freedom Theatre is a small charity and the team had already made good steps in weekly and monthly financial processes, as well as good inroads in their budgeting. The consultancy was therefore to help the team with their strategic financial management and coordinating their finances efficiently between the different departments. At the beginning of the assignment I conducted an assessment of their financial systems and procedures, and afterwards I spent time suggesting improvements and implementing new procedures. It was important that I trained the staff at the Freedom Theatre to ensure that they understood how to carry on implementing the new systems and procedures after my consultancy was over.

As with many consultancies, the technical challenges are usually not the most difficult part. I was unsure if I would be able to return for the second part of the assignment in March, as Israel controls entry to Palestine, so timing was a factor. Although I would have liked to have spent a longer period getting to know the organization and its systems, I was also conscious that I had to ensure that the consultancy work was carried out in the limited time available. It is also important to be flexible and to have cultural awareness; the most technically competent individuals can be completely ineffective in a development context because of lack of cultural sensitivity.

Left: a view of the Jenin Refugee Camp.

For me, the most interesting part of any project is getting to know the local people and the country. As well as enjoying the hospitality of The Freedom Theatre staff and their families, I went regularly to one coffee stall and built up a great relationship with the stall owner; I know almost no Arabic but we managed to have some surprisingly lengthy conversations through the magic of Google Translate. Indeed, he later invited me to his home to meet his family, and one of his family members was an excellent English speaker so I learnt so much about the local culture. In my free time I had the opportunity to do some sight-seeing in the beautiful city of Nablus, which was founded nearly 2,000 years ago and is an important cultural and commercial centre in Palestine. I also went to see the Roman ruins in Sabastiya, close to Nablus, where it is rumored that St John the Baptist is buried.

The Jenin refugee camp was first opened in 1953, so in some ways it has a sense of permanency much greater than other refugee camps. I had been to other camps before in Darfur and Sudan, as well as visiting the Jungle in Calais, but this was not how I expected it. It isn’t your typical refugee camp, filled with tents or UNHCR tarpaulin, but is covered with concrete buildings. Nevertheless there is still a great deal of uncertainty as buildings are regularly demolished. The inhabitants of the camp are still hopeful to return to their lands from which they have been displaced and it is not uncommon for them to still keep keys of homes they left behind in the hope that they will one day use them again.

The Freedom Theatre hopes to offer a cultural resistance in the form of art and theatre as an alternative to violent resistance. The programme aims to provide a healthier and more constructive way for young people to express their frustrations and has been active since 2006. Whilst I was there, they held a Bedouin music festival, trained stand-up comedians (currently touring internationally), and held a photography exhibition of residents of the camp. The photos were taken by young adults who were trained in photography by the Freedom Theatre.

Being on the Register of Finance Professionals has been a really rewarding experience. I’ve been placed by the Recruitment team four times now and each time I find you personally gain more from the experience than you give to the NGO with whom you are working. When I first joined the register, I was placed in my first ever assignment with an NGO in Sudan and I am grateful that Mango and the NGO took a chance on me and helped me to get established along the path I enjoy so much today. 

For more information about how to join the Register of Finance Professionals, click here.

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