Our News
13 January 2017

The Balata and Askar refugee camps: Living and teaching in Palestine

Following three years of teaching in Australia, Alumnus Tom Pearce recently took his skills back to refugee camps in Palestine.

Late last year, Teach For Australia Alumnus Tom Pearce (Cohort 2013) returned to the Palestinian refugee camps that he had volunteered in a few years ago.

Tom wanted to use his recently acquired skills as a teacher to help displaced Palestinian refugees, many of whom are living without access to regular electricity, running water, adequate food or education.

Over the three months, Tom lived in the Balata Refugee Camp and Askar Refugee Camp, teaching English, French, philosophy, music, yoga, meditation and teaching methods to refugee adults and children.

“The Balata Refugee camp is the biggest refugee camp in Palestine. Close to 40,000 Palestinians live in an area of .25 square kilometres,” said Tom.

He also taught in UN boys and girls schools and gave three lectures at An-Najjah University.

During his visit, Tom particularly enjoyed teaching his students how to meditate. He taught them to recognise and use meditation to minimise stress, deepen prayer experience and improve relationships with family and friends.

“I also had an incredible opportunity to teach yoga to 15 and 16 year old boys for two months, which was really rewarding too” he said.

Tom’s decision to teach in Palestine was deeply motivated by a desire to do meaningful and practical work after university. He wanted to help improve the circumstances of those less fortunate than himself.


“I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate to be part of a very loving family, to have been privileged and spoilt, and to have lived in a safe and secure country all my life,” said Tom.

Similarly, it was this desire to help those most disadvantaged that drew him to apply for Teach For Australia.

Tom was able to apply his experience as an Associate at Keysborough Secondary School to the challenge of teaching in refugee camps.

“Approximately 80 per cent of students at Keysborough Secondary School are refugees or recently arrived immigrants, so teaching students from a multitude of different ethnicities, religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds helped prepare me for teaching Palestinian students.”

“The principles that underpin the Teach For Australia philosophy – humility and empathy – helped me as well,” he said.

Tom also believes that his time teaching at an alternative education program in the Grampians throughout 2015 helped prepare him for the mental and physical difficulties facing refugee children.

“Some students who I taught at the alternative education program in Australia were disengaged from education. Many had experienced complex trauma and were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – similar to the vast majority of Palestinian children I taught this year, who have lived through countless years of conflict and violence.

“Working with students in the Grampians taught me how to interact and form relationships with students who have been damaged by previous events, experiences and relationships,” said Tom.

Overall, he found the three-months of teaching in Palestine deeply humbling.

Living on the periphery of a community that has endured so much shared suffering, he was inspired by the Palestinians “generosity, solidarity and capacity to forgive and love in the face of adversity”.

Tom has developed a deeper understanding of the lives of refugees, the value of hope and the importance of universal education. He hopes to return to Palestine and continue teaching in refugee camps in the future.

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