There is no doubt that one of the most important roles of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is to engage and educate the community. The commission’s sites inspire interest in an area of study, history, culture, and ideas.
The war graves are examples of informal learning environments, which means they are devoted primarily to preserve memorials and graves, and commemorate the anniversary, to those who lost their lives during the service of their country during the First and Second World Wars.
A visit to a war cemetery can offer many things. Most notably it can expose you to stories and information which you may have previously never known or understood. A war cemetery provides you with the opportunity to learn about the history of battles, memorials and why they were created, different cultures and many other details. It’s nearly impossible to leave a war cemetery without having gained a new insight or learned something during your visit.
There are many different reasons why people might want to visit one of our sites. On the one hand it could be that they’re studying history, the effects of war, or want to explore the places that relate to a certain time period. But then there are others who’s visit might be a form of escapism, or to socially interact with friends whilst visiting as part of their school or university, or maybe they want to relax in a beautiful environment, in contrast to many other places in the Gaza Strip.
Throughout the year, we receive local visits from all educational, cultural and other institutions. There are three CWGC cemeteries in the Gaza strip; Gaza war cemetery, Deir El-Belah war cemetery, and D.E.B Egyptian cemetery. The visits vary among school students, universities, summer camps and overseas-backed projects. The CWGC's sites in the Gaza Strip are classified as one of the most important historical sites, cultural and archaeological.
And as part of our strategy to promote integration with the community in the Gaza Strip, we always seek to develop and improve the visitor experience and encourage more visits.
When we receive these visitors, we are working to generate greater public understanding of the Commission's work, through providing adequate information, to visitors and students.
The questions we receive also vary, some of which are about the history of graves, and history of battles and memorials. Others question about the Commission, its work, its activities and how it manages these places.
It’s a great feeling when you make these visitors happy and see the reactions on their faces when they receive information from us. And you may see other students busy drawing or inscribing inscriptions they’ve seen on the graves.
Sometimes, we get questions from students like ‘Have you ever felt afraid because you are working in a cemetery? Especially at night?’ I told him not at all, my family has been working here for decades, and we live in the house of the commission too, which is inside the cemetery! These soldiers have lost their lives for their country, we must give them all respect and appreciation. There are many nationalities here, as well as religions and we live here with them, and in peace.
Many local schools and universities and others, rely heavily on the historic and archaeological sites to enhance their curriculum. Over the years, this has helped to create a partnership between educational institutions and the CWGC's cemeteries in the Gaza Strip.
For example, there is a regular partnership between Gaza Municipality and us to organize cultural trips for children during the holidays through summer camps. As for the government schools and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools, they usually visit us during school days, as educational trips for children.
Many academics, especially those who specialize in history, prefer to give their university lectures at our sites, as a suitable place for the subject of the lesson.
With regard to cultural visits, which are often supported from abroad, we also have many relationships. For example, we have partnered with the ‘It's my turn project’, which is sponsored by the US Consulate. The project seeks to enhance the personal growth and enlarge the leadership skills of many young adults, through several activities and visits to cultural places in Gaza. Participants organize several visits to us throughout the year, at Gaza war cemetery and Deir El Belah war cemetery.
During these trips and projects, we help give participants the opportunity to learn by exploring and experiencing our sites first-hand. They get to talk and write about CWGC, its history and activities in the Gaza Strip.
Research has uncovered that creating community involvement is more about location than the activity at hand, and this kind of location-based learning (like the kind utilized in our cemeteries) is a driver for change and development within the community.