“We tell the children about the Palestinian issue while focusing on our specific issue, the one of refugees. Some of the children don’t know anything about the village they come from, so we decided to compare with the cartoon Tom & Jerry. Both of them fight each other, but the same one is always winning: Jerry.”
Lajee Cultural Center has just wrapped its 15th two-week annual summer camps held in Aida refugee camp. The two camps offer learning, working and fun activities for both Bethlehemite children aged 6-15 years, and volunteers from all over the globe.
Lajee’s programs aim at responding to the particular needs of the community and improving the skills and abilities of its members, while defending Palestinian rights. Amongst the activities offered all over the year by the units of the centre, such as the media, environment, music and water units, the two summer camps, implemented in 2001, are one of the most awaited projects.
Children’s Summer Camp: Developing skills while having fun
The children’s summer camp is held every year for two weeks, was designated to enable children to improve their skills in the fields of art, photography, traditional dancing (Dabka), environment while attending entertaining activities.
Among the activities lead this year by the employees and volunteers of Lajee Centre, were two activities at the swimming pool were organised, as well as a hiking-trip in the Al Makhrour area.
Among 160 children, Mahmoud, a 14-year-old boy coming every day at the centre for the summer programme, and who attended the programme for 6 years in a row.
“Everyone feels comfortable here, more than in our home, because it’s the only time during the year that we see all of our friends. During the rest of the year, it’s more difficult because of the situation here.” Mahmoud says. “These days are the best days”, during which “children are coming not only from Aida, but also from Doha and Beit Jala, and everyone communicates with each other.”
“In a situation where soldiers throw stones and tear gas, how can we deal with the situation? Staying in the house, closing the door, the windows?” said Amani Asad, the main coordinator of the children’s summer camp. “We organise these activities because of the situation, we need to see the smile on the face of the children” she further added. “We also tell the children about the Palestinian issue, while focusing on our specific issue, the one of refugees. Some of the children don’t know anything about the village they come from, so we tell them about it” Amani explained. Regarding the challenge of explaining the situation of the Occupation to the youngest participants, she told “we decided to compare with the cartoon Tom & Jerry. Both of them fight each other, but the same one is always winning: Jerry.”
Activities have also been organised twice between international volunteers and children. Even if the language barrier remains for most of them, these activities have enabled the participants to have fun while getting to know each other better.
Work camp for international volunteers: working, learning and living together
The work camp, a project that started in 2001, aims at “giving the chance for international people, especially for those who do not know anything about Palestine, to get to know the situation on the ground and listening to different stories from different people” said Mohammad al-Azza, the main coordinator of the camp.
For two weeks, volunteers coming from all around the world learn more about the Palestinian culture, meet local people, visit different places and cities in the West Bank in order to get insights into many issues affecting Palestinians, such as political imprisonment.
After these two weeks of educational experience, the volunteers are going back to their home country with new ideas, new feelings and a different outlook on the situation here.
Jamal, a 23-year-old US citizen studying at the University of Southern-California, is one of them. Son of two Palestinian refugees and first generation born in the US, he has already been to Middle-Eastern countries and Palestine. However, after the programme, he feels that he has “a community that I can live with and that I can come back to, and that’s totally a result of this programme.”
He believes that the work camp has provided him with information supplementing his studies. “Now I feel much more grounded in reality to write about what is going on here. Rather than joining on these big US and indirect theories, I am talking about personal stories and first-hand sources.”
About the Lajee Center, he believes that it provides “a structure of life in a way that the conflict around them does not define who they are, which is the purest form of resilience in itself.” Further, he mentioned that “the work they do is not easy, the principles they stand by make it even harder as far as not accepting money from the USA and other big organisations.”
Iona van dorn, a nineteen-year-old Dutch currently studying at the University of Amsterdam, coming for the first time in Palestine, says that it was “such an eye-opening experience, and people are so incredible here.” About the plans of the participants following that experience, she says that “we have taken pictures during these two weeks, and we all want to make a gallery back home. I also definitely want to come back, and most of us want to come back too. I think that speaks for itself.”
While the creation of Lajee Center was based on a dream, its lasting is nothing short of a miracle. People working there as well as volunteers give their time and energy to long-lasting projects, bringing life into a camp targeted on a daily-basis by the Israeli army.