One of the things I love about travelling is that it often knocks your prejudices or pre-conceived ideas into a cocked hat, and visiting Palestine is no exception. It's good to be humbled from time to time, and yesterday surely was that! A visit as part of the Project Hope team to the Nablus University (18,000 students) to see their Science Festival.
A huge newly-built campus, sprawling over the hills in the north of Nablus. The students who are in their final year had obviously been asked to invent something using the knowledge they had learned during their studies and display these to the public, but mostly to groups of visiting students from other schools, as a way of encouraging interest in science but also in further education.
We were there to help guide the school kids around the displays, but as there were quite a few of us, I took the time out to talk to the graduating students and got them to explain their inventions to me. This is where I was bowled over: not only had they created all of these amazing and complex creations themselves, using recycled bits of...everything... they were able to explain in detail what it was proving/demonstrating...in a second language: English. AND they were keen to do so! I especially liked the cauliflower and carrots growing in a medium out of small parts of...cauliflower and carrot. No seed needed, just a growing solution full of the necessary nutrients, and the morsel of carrot grew into a new plant (they had tubs showing various stages of growth). Amazing.
Students I spoke to were studying: physics; electronic physics; medical analysis; biology; biochemistry; micro-biology; applied biology; parasitology; etc, etc. Good grief, I have a job even spelling those words! Friendly, helpful students, they took pity on my complete lack of scientific knowledge, and explained to me certain chemical reactions, how chips and radar and microns and little buzzy whirry things worked, and I didn't even know what to ask back: 'what is your name' seemed somehow insignificant.
The sad part came, however, when I asked them what they were going to do now. For the most part they shrugged their shoulders, some said further education in the form of a PhD, but most would now be looking for work in a country of 70% unemployment. They are 'not allowed' travel to other parts of the West Bank to look for work (check-points, papers,etc) and here in Nablus there is no industry. What an utter waste of human talent, intelligence and creativity. These kids are smart, and they deserve better than this.