by Amy Elvidge
Meg Keegan, a second-year Agriculture, Food and Environment and Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) student, is incredibly modest in discussing her bravery and ingenuity while a student at the Friedman School. Aside from being a powerful voice in the classroom, a marathon runner, a student leader and researcher, Meg has already gotten a life’s worth of experience in one short year. After traveling to a refugee camp Palestine with the WSSS program last March, Meg Keegan had no doubt in her mind that her Friedman internship would be with the same community. Meg’s internship, better described as a research project, was to investigate the food system issues in this very unique setting. She was awarded grant money from the Feinstein Center and Tufts University to finance the cost of her travels and planned the trip for the only time she could—August 7th, the end of Ramadan.
The purpose of the trip was to look at the water-food nexus in the Aida Refugee Camp to determine the physical feasibility of household gardens and to estimate their ability to improve food security. Meg was providing the camp with an implementation tool for a household garden project supported by the Lajee Center in Aida. Meg learned first-hand how to survey food security and was the executive planner and manager of the project. Working with an excellent translator, Meg was able to carry out surveying and interact with a focus group.
But her capabilities didn’t stop there: Meg’s drafting and industrial drawing skills enabled her to create schematics of the gardens she envisioned, providing the focus groups and camp residents with a more concrete tool for project implementation. However, during the project it became quite clear the bounds of her own abilities, as a student of agriculture she did not have the expertise to assist with engineering, hydrology, architecture or construction for the project, but she did have the patience and open-mindedness to allow experts in those fields share their talents.
Meg took this second chance in the camp to truly experience the culture: she started to learn Arabic, shopped in local markets, cooked local food and even tried out the traditional Palestine dance, Dabke. Meg found the community to be exceptionally receptive to foreigners. Each home she surveyed invited her in for tea, coffee, or a light meal. In Meg’s words, “Palestinian hospitality cannot be matched.”
Her time in the camp was not without challenges, however; challenges so drastically different from what we encounter in the United States. Because Meg was training for a marathon, the real-world issue of water-scarcity in this area was a constant predicament. While she was hosted by one of the most affluent families in the camp, wealth is not able to determine a steady water supply in Aida. Meg was dehydrated daily due to the fact that she was unable to physically consume enough water. Daily life at the camp is planned around water deliveries, dictating activities like showering, using the toilet, washing dishes and cooking. Meg also experienced the violence associated with Israeli occupation of the community. “At points, the rawness of the violence in the community dug at my preconceived ideas about conflict, safety, and security. The Israeli occupation wielded difficult images and at times, an uneasiness about the security situation during a series of clashes. The members of the community understood that I was a Westerner and unaccustomed to these realities, but they, sadly, are unsurprised by most violence in the camp.”
Overall, Meg’s experience was truly positive, and she suggests that anyone interested in this internship should take Jenny Coates’s NUTR 304 course on Nutrition, Food Security, and Development and to get involved with the Feinstein Center. Meg notes that there is a balance necessary to succeed well in Aida with the Lajee Center: proposed projects or research must be preconceived, clear, and well-planned, but also in line with the needs of the community and the objectives of the Lajee Center.
Amy Elvidge is a second-year AFE student and one of the current co-editors of The Friedman Sprout.