Palestinian students intern with Catholic Charities

Palestinian students intern with Catholic Charities

Photo by James A. McBride

bethlehemstudentsgroup-webBethlehem University students Mariana Nazi and Amjaad “A.J.” Musleh stand with Catholic Charities, Camden staff members. Pictured from left are Kaitlyn Muller, program director, Refugee and Immigration Services; Thuy Le, intensive case manager; Mariana; A.J.; and Randall Clark, senior case manager, Ready Vet Go. Mariana and A.J. are spending six weeks in the Camden Diocese, helping the needy and sharing their Palestinian culture.

CAMDEN – On May 30, two college students from Bethlehem University in Palestine first stepped foot here at the Catholic Charities offices on Haddon Avenue, beginning a six-week cultural exchange.

Amjaad “A.J.” Musleh and Mariana Nazi, both 21, are participating in a summer internship program between Bethlehem University and Catholic Charities U.S.A., in which students utilize the skills they are learning in their respective majors with Catholic Charities offices nationwide.
Bethlehem University is a Catholic university that was founded by Pope Paul VI in 1973 and run by the De La Salle brothers. Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Camden, visited Bethlehem University while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was “tremendously impressed by the students, faculty and staff that I met,” and was “inspired by what (the) university is accomplishing – providing an oasis of safety, security and learning to 3,000 Palestinian students.”
The opportunity the Diocese of Camden has in welcoming A.J. and Mariana, he said, is “for us to concretely live out Catholic social teaching by being a part of the efforts to bring peace and justice to the Palestinian and Israeli people,” better becoming “servants of the poor here and more informed about a most complicated corner of the world.”
Living with host families, the women are working with Catholic Charities. A.J., an English literature major with a business administration minor, is performing research in the Community Support and Planning Office. Mariana, a computer science major and business administration minor, is helping victims of Hurricane Sandy and refugees. The two students’ schedules include staffing the Catholic Charities offices in Atlantic City; feeding the needy at the Cathedral Kitchen and Food Pantry; speaking at parishes; meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Palestine in Washington, D.C.; and meeting with the United Nations Ambassador to Palestine at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City.
A.J. and Mariana are learning about poverty’s devastating effects in the United States, but also the good that Catholic Charities accomplishes.
“We really appreciate just the opportunity to work with the homeless and poor families,” Mariana said. “In interacting with them, we see how, no matter their situation, they’re always smiling and happy, because Catholic Charities is such a big support for them.”
A.J. lives in the West Bank, with her father, a retired history teacher; mother, a retired English teacher; and two older sisters.
Mariana lives in Jerusalem with her father, an architect; mother, a teacher; and two younger brothers.
Back home, the two carry ID cards given to them by the Israeli government which, since 1967, has controlled Palestine, Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Depending on what color ID is given to them, Palestinians are allowed, or restricted, access to certain areas.
As a Palestinian living in the West Bank, A.J. has a Green I.D., which restricts her from traveling to places such as Nazareth or Jerusalem, unless she receives a permit from Israel, which can only be received during the holidays of Easter and Christmas. Mariana, as a Palestinian in Jerusalem, holds a Blue I.D., which allows her broader access and freedom. Still, the two must deal with constant checkpoints.
The two have found education to be a source of promise. While 2 percent of the population of Palestine are Christian, they say, 25 percent of the population at Bethlehem University share their faith, with other friends and classmates having a Muslim background.
Each is trilingual. Mariana can speak Arabic, English and French, while A.J. knows Arabic, English and German.
“Education is our only hope,” A.J. said.

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