Community-based initiatives rely on the community for the sustainability and viability of the initiatives. Some difficulties may be present for initiatives to achieve stability and support from within the larger community as Riham from Beit Sahoor explains, however, as Lina from Dalia Association demonstrates, for an initiative to be successful it has to take into account the many dimensions of the community that it works in.
I opened this place, the art studio, about 3-4 years ago. I began working on it–No I technically opened it in 2017, which was last year.But how it started was when I began working and started to plan on opening this space in 2014. This was done mostly because I needed a space… somewhere in Beit Sahoor, because this is such a small town so there’s no space dedicated for artists, or for you to do what you need to do (as an artist). So I opened this space that I would first find myself comfortable in, then I opened it to the outside world. So this is my grandmother’s old place, which I renovated and redecorated, then flipped it into an art studio. A place I can come and do my arts, and people are able to come and draw, and we can also hold workshops: varying from theatre, drawing, music, music jam sessions, and other musical expressions/mediums.
Ok, so the challenges of this project are obviously substantial. Especially since I am the only one working on this and responsible for this project. I started this out on my own, so at times I do feel like I’m in this all by myself, and that I’m too close to get a real perspective. I feel like this is something I created for myself…How will I create an environment that is welcoming to others, where they feel like they belong. How will I let more people appreciate what is going on and also feel like they want to give back and participate. We’re very used to taking and taking and consuming. So for people to visit this place and give back at the same time can be quite challenging. It’s quite a challenge to convince the person in front of you to buy a painting in a space that is meant to be creative and inviting. The dualism is difficult.
This is one of the greatest challenges I’ve had. Hosting a gallery or a show and for people to understand that the things they will purchase here is going back into the art salon, and that it is something of value. Getting others to appreciate the worth of what is being done here can be difficult, because we often associate value with something like food, bread, or clothes. And not in art. So this was also a challenge.
I had two challenges: for me to keep up and sustain myself on the income from this place and ensure continuity, while doing something for this community. And for others to feel like they belong and can openly participate so that they can invest their time and build this place up. Acts of volunteerism here are slowly going away. I don’t see many people volunteering anymore.
So these are the things that I feel myself struggling with, instead of finding a community to support me. At times I really feel like I am all alone in this. However, I am persistent. I haven’t stopped, I always have faith that this place will attract the right people, ones who will be interested in this place. We will build it up and create this support environment. There is an energy in this place that draws in people who are suited for this project and we will work on this undertaking together.At the same time, I don’t want to have to wait around for others to come and help me. I’m still doing my part and making the place the best it can be, so whatever happens will happen. I’m just not waiting around for things to happen.
So you asked about the challenges that we face in these societies in particular, how can they work in the system we are talking about. Everything is a challenge from the beginning to the end. The first challenge we see is accepting the idea, this idea as Aisha has said, is beginning to disappear. What is volunteering, what is the system of aid, when people used to gather and help in harvesting olives or even building a house for a person that is close to them in the community?
What does this mean? So to bring back or to revive the idea and their acceptance to it was one of the biggest challenges we had faced. You are talking about a dream, talking about something unrealistic. In the system we are living in now, how will this be valued financially and economically? We tried to solve it in numerous meetings and through examples of people that were able to work together with these resources and help one another by communication in social relations through exchanging skills and knowledge, to so something from nothing. So the challenge was how to convince them in this idea. Secondly, with the initiative itself, to value the local resources and to put value to their own exhaustion and their own efforts. This idea was foreign because the resources were for free, so it was perceived as invaluable.
To put value to their own exhaustion and their own efforts. You put effort to serve the community and it must be shown its meaning. This creates a beautiful relationship with your neighbour and your community. This was also one of the biggest challenges we had faced. The technical challenges were based on the initiatives, how to perform them, who are the best-suited people to think about the societal benefits, in a concept of pure economy. We are always on four aspects of development, strong, complete in the society. You have to take dimensions, the economy is very important, but it has to be local economy for you to be standing strong on your soil and produce. The environmental aspect, how we can service and use in matters that have to do with our economy, and not harm it because at the end it is what will give us wealth and benefit us. Third thing is societal relationships and fourth aspect is the Palestinian culture and the importance of preserving it.
When we talk about these four dimensions, when we plan the initiatives, we saw there were challenges to incorporate these elements. It is not necessary to incorporate them but to be aware of them. The nice thing about us the way we precede with things we learn from experience. Every time we go into a society, we learn from them. We do not have a set plan that we want to complete. Every time I deal with a community, I thoroughly understand their problems, certain challenges and certain context in the society. So I develop my initiatives on their own perceptions along with minimizing the challenges when I work with these communities.
Initiatives may face internal challenges that pose risk to the work being done. In these situations, as Lina describes, it is best to step back and evaluate the circumstances, challenges, and context the community is facing.