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Palestinian Summer Camp at Wahat al-Salam / Neve Shalom

Thursday 25 July 2013, by Ranin Boulos

Mr. Hermann Sieben, Chair of the NS/WAS Friends Association in Germany asked me if I would be interested in organizing this year’s Palestinian summer camp to be held in NS/WAS. I had organized and directed two such camps in 2006 and 2007 that proved to be very successful, with positive feedback both in Israel and among the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Such summer camps are meant for underprivileged children from the Palestinian territories with little or no chance of enjoying any summer activities in their areas. I was very excited about the idea, thanked Mr. Sieben for his trust and proceeded with the preparations.

Arranging such camps requires a great deal of effort and flexibility. Bringing Palestinian children into Israel for a week-long stay is not a simple matter. It requires dealing with the Israeli Civil Administration of the Occupied Territories on a daily basis to secure entry permits into Israel. But our first challenge was to find a suitable group of children. In the 2006 and 2007 summer camps we brought the children from Tul Karem refugee camp in the West Bank. This year too I began by making contacts with refugee camps, but approached those in the Bethlehem area. To my surprise I was confronted with rejection and opposition to the whole idea. When I approached officials, they claimed that the project was intended to “beautify the occupation”, rather than to serve the interests of the Palestinian children. They said that they were against such activities because they support normalization. This was the first time that I had faced such attitudes from the Palestinian side: in previous camps, problems had arisen from the Israeli side and related to security issues and entry permits. With little time remaining before the summer break, I was faced with the question of where to find children for this year’s summer camp.

Rita Boulos in the NS/WAS communications and development office suggested to contact Father Paul Saoma of Latrun Monastery and ask for his advice. Father Paul has many contacts in the Bethlehem area with schools and orphanages. He put us in touch with a social activist in Bethlehem who was able to recruit some 40 children aged 7-12, who come from very poor families. We obtained their names and identity numbers and started the process of applying for entry permits. I must acknowledge that the process went smoothly, with very good cooperation from the Civil Administration.

The 2013 Palestinian summer camp became a reality.
We chose the NS/WAS youth center as the venue. The place was in a rundown condition and needed much renovation, so our maintenance man Zakaria got to work. He was aided by the camp leaders, with full support from the village management. Consequently, the building was fixed-up in record time to receive the children for their accommodation and daytime activities.

The Staff:
• Director & Organizer: Ranin Boulos
• Youth Leaders: Carlo Layous, Natalie Boulos, Nadine Shbeta, Warad Ighbarieh, Issam Hijazi and Sari Nashef
• Volunteers from NSWAS: Rita Boulos, Muna Boulos, Ramez Manna, Janna Karayanni
• Volunteers: 9 volunteers from Italy
• Photographer: Glenn Chon

Location of the Summer Camp:
• Wahat Al Salam - Neve Shalom Youth Club

The Program:
Sunday June 30

I arrived in Bethlehem at 8:30 am to meet the children and to make sure they all got safely on the bus. The children were very excited and anxious to start the camp. Luckily this year we didn’t have any major delays at the checkpoint, but only the routine scary procedure of an armed soldier entering the bus and checking the children.

We arrived at the village around 10:30 am and found the leaders and the volunteers all standing and waiting to greet the children. After breakfast, I welcomed all the children and introduced them to their youth leaders and the volunteers. They were divided by age into three groups, the first group, aged 7-9 with the leaders Nadine and Sari; the second group aged 10-12 with the leaders Natalie and Warad; and the third group aged 13-14 with the leaders Carlo and Issam. After dividing the children into groups and introducing them to their youth leaders, we were ready to start the summer camp.

Arrival Day:
Monday, July 1
We took the children to visit the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem; we had 2 special guides from the Zoo staff to explain to the children in Arabic about the animals. They took us all around the Zoo in an organized tour.

July 2-3 Tuesday and Wednesday activities in the village
Art Activities:
- Arts
- Theater
- African Drumming
As mentioned above, I divided the children into 3 groups, so while the first group was learning Arts, the second group was learning Theater and the third group was learning African Drumming. Then they would switch three times, in order that each group could participate, experience and learn all three activities. Art teachers from outside the village were hired. Each teacher was a professional in her own field.

Thursday July 4, Trip to Jaffa
Thursday morning we all woke up and got ready to go to Jaffa.
At first we went to the ELMINA Theater, located in Jaffa’s beautiful port. The theater put on a special children’s show in Arabic called “Al Qendil Al Sageer” which means “The Little Lamp”. After the play the theater staff gave a special art session to the children based on the characters of the play. Afterwards, we took a 30-minute cruise out of Jaffa port in a special tour boat. The children really enjoyed this and just when some of them were beginning to feel a little seasick we arrived back in the harbor and proceeded to a shady place to sit for a picnic lunch prepared for us by the NS/WAS hotel restaurant.

After lunch and after resting for a while, we went to the beach. This was an activity for which the children had been eagerly waiting. We found a nice uncrowded beach just in front of the life guard’s station. This was perfect for 40 children who were unused to the sea and unable to swim. It helped to ease the heavy responsibility of keeping a close eye on all these kids. As in previous years, the youth leaders and volunteers waded out into the sea and, by holding hands, created a kind of line that the children could not cross.
The children had a great time in the sea and were very sad when the time came to leave.

Friday, July 5 - Activities and Farewell Party at night

Friday was the children’s last night in the summer camp. The day started by waking up and having breakfast at the Nadi Youth Club. We began the day’s arts activities early because this was the last day. Each teacher wanted to finalize preparations with the children for their presentation at a farewell party to which the village residents had been invited.

The morning hours were spent in putting the last touches to their art work, rehearsing a stage performance, and practicing African drumming. After lunch we continued the preparations for the farewell party.

At around 7pm all the guests gathered around the pool where a small stage was set up for the children to present their acts.

We started with the African drumming and the children drummed beautifully; they had learned a small part and then surprised everyone by drumming and singing an Italian song they had learned from the Italian volunteers. It was great to watch.

After the drumming show, the children presented a play based on the children’s story “Little Red Riding Hood”. Everyone in the audience were amazed and impressed at how the children had been able to create a play and act so wonderfully in only three days.

Right afterwards, we gave the children a small gift: with the help of the art teacher we had set a group photo in a beautiful frame created by the children.Then my turn came to thank all the leaders, volunteers, teachers and children and to wish them all the best.Following this small event the children, had dinner at the pool which had been prepared by the Hotel restaurant.The real party began after dinner: it included water balloon games inside and outside of pool. The carnival atmosphere included loud music and cotton candy. At 10:30 pm we all gathered around a big screen set up at one corner of the pool grounds to watch a short video clip that Glenn had prepared on the summer camp. It was a magical night and the children went to bed very happy and satisfied.

Saturday, July 6 – Going home
After an intensive fun week the summer camp came to an end on Saturday morning. We woke up, had breakfast and went for a final swim in the pool, after which the children took showers, arranged their stuff, played a bit more in the Nadi and then went for their last lunch together at the Hotel. After lunch we went back to the Nadi, helped the children to put their stuff on the bus and they were ready to leave. With sad faces and watery eyes we exchanged goodbyes before their trip back home.

Special Thanks are due to:
• The German Friends Association and especially Mr. Herman Sieben for continued support for the village, and especially for funding that has made the summer camp an annual event.
• The NS/WAS management for its full support, encouragement and help in solving all the problems.
• The Italian Friends Association and the ACLI organization in Italy for sending nine volunteers, some of whom worked with the children and some who did general work in the village.
• The wonderful and enthusiastic leaders from the village who worked day and night with the children and became their older brothers and sisters.
• Glenn Chon, from the U.S. who interns with the communications and development office, for being the photographer and video maker for the camp.

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