As a member of the Water Systems, Science, and Society program, students are required to work alongside a client, local or international, for the duration of a semester. In the fall of 2015, various projects were being proposed, one of which was the opportunity to work with the Boston based non-profit 1for3 in partnership with the Palestinian based community center, the Lajee Center. This not only included a close working relationship with our clients, but the chance to travel and implement our work in Palestine!
Without much of an attachment to Boston, I thought this would be a powerful experience to expand my international repertoire. Up until this point, my only connection with this region was the reoccurring insight that I should go on birthright, but growing up in Texas I was fairly isolated from my Jewish side of the family. The border conflicts between Israel and Palestine were quite muted in respect to the more relevant and pressing disputes with our own southern neighbors. The idea of traveling to Israel seemed more like a distant fantasy, a connection to an abstract and vague ancestry that I for some reason felt I inherently needed to get to know.
The primary goal was to aid in the human right to the access of clean water; despite my lack of knowledge to the nuances of this phrase in the Israeli-Palestinian context, I was eager to have an opportunity to work in this region with a direct purpose. Throughout the first few weeks of getting familiar with this project, our objectives and plan of action were still relatively vague. Although, 1for3 and WSSS students had worked together in the past (2012, 2013, and 2014) assessing the water quality challenges in the Aida Refugee camp of Bethlehem, this year we were looking to expand beyond the previous legacy. We would travel to Palestine to engage with a neighboring refugee camp, al Azza, and evaluate their unique set of water quality issues. Through household surveys and water sample collections, we were to analyze the degree of water health and security to the camp, and to provide our client’s with a strategy for expanding their water quality treatment and conservation programs.
While there, we successfully completed over thirty surveys with a wide range of households in the camp, met with several local stakeholders from the Palestinian Water Authority to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and held a community meeting to share our findings from our weeks work. One of the most memorable parts of the experience is the mutually beneficial relationship we were able to establish with our translators, as they shared some of their personal histories and expertise, and we shared our knowledge of water quality sampling.
Now, barely one month after our week spent there, I am still processing our experiences. Despite many conversations and readings about the rich and complex history of Israeli-Palestinian relationships, this trip illuminated the complexity of the conflict that weigh heavy in the region. Fortunately, in al Azza we did not encounter any significant levels of harmful bacteria in the tap water of the homes that we tested, but rather residents communicated they were plagued with significant water insecurity and shortages throughout the dry season.
This trip has taught me the proper scientific techniques for testing the levels of residual chlorine and quality of water in relation to total coliform and fecal bacteria, as well as better prepared me for working directly with a client in a multi-cultural professional context to strategically expand their long-term goals.
But ultimately, this trip has ignited a passion for further exploring the nexus of diplomacy, conflict mediation, and powerful role that water rights hold in this intricate dance. We now have the technologies and capacity to merge rigorous scientific analysis of water quality and allocation systems with political advocacy and leadership in innovative ways; I am excited for a future which addresses this unique set of challenges communities globally are facing.