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Summer Camp for Palestinian Children

Sunday 3 July 2011, by Reem Nashef

This year I started looking for the group for the Palestinian camp from early May. Then I heard from our friend Zakariya from Beit Sira village that it would be possible to bring children from there. He agreed to organize a group of school children from the village. This possibility was attractive since we have long nurtured good-neighborly relations with this Ramallah-district village that is just across the Separation Barrier in the West Bank.

As soon as we received the names of the candidate children, we applied to the “Civil Administration” of the Defense Ministry in order to obtain permits for the children. In the meanwhile I prepared the suggested program and waited for the permits. Meanwhile I contacted Jinan, the Palestinian coordinator to discuss the program and the list of items they should bring to the Camp.

Jinan explained the organizational problems on her end – especially the necessity to persuade parents to send their children across the Green Line. Yet they trusted Zakariya and the connection with Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom.

We received permits for the children only on June 28 - two days before the end of the school year: which meant that I had to make all the final preparations very quickly in order to begin the summer camp, as intended the following week. We began to work, and make phone calls to the companies whose services we would need on Friday, July 1 – not a good time since in Israel, Friday is a half-day. But at least, over the weekend, we were able to organize the school building and yard for the following Sunday.

Bringing the children was easier than in previous Summer Camps due to the short twenty minute bus journey from Beit Sira. I escorted the children all the way from Beit Sira. At first they were very quiet and shy. It took them time for them to get used to us and our way of life in WAS-NS. They were astonished by everything they saw and were very eager and happy to participate in all the activities that we prepared for them. Every morning they were up on time and full of questions about what we would be doing that day. Many of the children had experienced Summer Camps in the West Bank – but they said that their camps were not as full of activities as this one.

As every year, the most popular attraction was our beautiful swimming pool. They spent many happy hours playing in the water. Another highlight for them was the visit to the stalactite cave. They were fascinated by the different shapes and were asking all the time whether these were natural or whether someone had sculpted them. They also loved the classroom activity with animals. A Jewish guide (whom we translated) brought animals such as squirrels, snakes, mice, bird and an iguana to show them. He allowed the children to pet and play with these.

I asked them if they would like to see a three-dimensional film even if it would be in Hebrew. They readily agreed, so we traveled to a multiplex movie theater in Rishon le Zion. They said it was great.

I prepared a “treasure-hunt” activity for them, with pick-up points all over Wahat al Salam –Neve Shalom, in order that they would grow acquainted with the village. They ran through the village at a frantic pace since the fastest group would be the winner.

On our trip to Jerusalem, we made a stop at the famous “Mifletzet” playground, the center piece of which is a colorful giant sculpture in the shape of a monster. Children’s slides emerge from its mouth like tongues. The children saw the Old City and the Al-Aqsa mosque from three overlooks (the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, and a point near Jabal el-Mukaber village. We also walked through the Old City market and visited the Church of the Resurrection. We weren’t able to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque since there had been no time to prepare a police permit.

They loved the trip to Jaffa where we walked in the old city and then visited the harbor for a cruise on the sea. Afterwards we went to Ajami beach where they enjoyed for the first time in their lives a dip in the Mediterranean. They experienced the strong waves and tasted the salty water. They were sure it must be the Dead Sea, because they had heard only that this was salty. But we explained that all seas are salty and the Dead Sea even more so.

Their last day was also a full one. They started with a football game with children from a parallel summer camp for Israeli children that was taking place in the village. The Beit Sira children won. After breakfast they continued with more sports activities. In groups, they moved between eight different stations – each with separate competitive activities. After each five-minute game, a winning group was chosen, based not just on the number of points they scored, but also on their behavior and cooperation. The prize for the winning group was to be splashed with a pail of water!!! After lunch came a special treat: we had hired a company that brought inflatable games and castles. The children played and jumped on these for three hours and they were each presented with cups of popcorn and cotton candy.

At the end of the day the children went to the swimming pool and cooled off in the water. Then we started the last-night party on the grass, where they watched a film and then danced together. Meanwhile we prepared a barbecue for dinner at the pool. We stayed there until half an hour after midnight, and then all went to bed, exhausted.

On the last day we woke the children late - around 8:30- 9:00. They had a cup of tea and wrote letters of thanks to the Camp donors. After breakfast came three final activities, lasting in total an hour and a half. These involved making a stained glass style picture (on plastic), then painting a picture frame. Then there was another picture-making activity with copper strips. They were happy to take these creations home with them.

Before the bus arrived, we enjoyed some watermelon and chocolate pudding. We also sat down to talk about the week’s activities. Each child expressed his or her deep feelings. They said how much fun it ad been and that they had done more fun activities than in any summer camp they could remember.

Here are some quotations from the children:

Eyad, Kusai and Rania each said: “It was a wonderful camp! I loved the sea, which I saw for the first time in my life.”

Mohamad and Yasmin both said: “Thank you for the wonderful week - I loved the trip to Jaffa.”

Waseem, Rufaida and Enas said: “Thank you for the wonderful leaders. I liked the trip to Jerusalem best.”

Ali, Nour, Ayat and Aya said: “It was my first summer camp and it was really good. I loved everything, especially the trips .

Malak and Ezieh said: “I loved the school and was astonished by it. We liked the film although we didn’t understand the Hebrew language.”

Woroud, Nidaa and Narmin said: “We loved the activities and the leaders. And especially the inflatable jumping games.”

Lama, Ibrahim and Hadeel said: “We loved the trips and the activities.”

Al Razi, Baraa, Ahmad and Yousef said: “I loved the evening football games and the leaders.”

Haithem, Faraj and Tarek said: “I wish I could stay here because it was such a wonderful week. This camp was one of the best camps I’ve been to.”

Eyad, Malek and Omar said: “We loved how we were treated. The food was very good. And we loved the sports games.”

They all agreed that it was a successful camp and that they wished they had more time to see other things such as Superland (an amusement park) or maybe could get an opportunity to fly in an airplane. They really thanked the donors to the Camp for making it possible.

Leaders’ opinions and feedback

Karin said: “I liked the children very much and was very happy to meet with them and play and teach them new games.”
Nadeen said : “The children were wonderful and they behaved very well. I enjoyed working with them.”

Esam said: “I loved my group and I liked working with them and playing the treasure-hunt game.”

Mohammad said: “It’s my first time and I felt very much attached to my group. I liked how they were always ready to participate in all the games and activities.”

Sivan said: “It’s the first time that I work with children in a Camp. I liked everything and I thank their leaders for helping us and for participating in everything.”

Maya said : “I had a great time - the children were really wonderful.”

Feedback from the Palestinian leaders

Jinan, the daughter of Zakaria, was one of the leaders that accompanied the group and slept with the girls at night. She also was the one to make all the preparations, starting two months before the Camp. This required many phone calls and visits to the homes of the children in order to talk with parents and persuade them that it would be okay to send their children to Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom.

She said that she really enjoyed the week and learned a lot from the leaders, including games and activities. She said the children were so happy that they didn’t want to sleep. They were eager to see and do everything and would have enough time to sleep when they went home. They wanted to experience and feel and use every minute while they were here. She thanked the leaders and the donor for the wonderful week. She said that she had cried all the way back home to her village because of the wonderful experience.

Mohamad Ibrahim : This was his first time in Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom. He slept with the boys in the school music room. He said he was very happy because the children experienced so many new things. He was full of gratitude to the donors and to the leaders for their patience and their willingness to work and accept each one.

My opinion

This was one of the most successful camps that we have had. Everything was well organized and went according to schedule. This was thanks to lessons we have learned from previous Camps, the cooperation of the Palestinian leaders and the willingness of the children to cooperate and participate in all the activities.

It is always a pleasure to work with children despite the long days required during summer camps. I was available to prepare and organize things while the leader with their helpers accompanied the children in their rooms. The school administrative staff were very helpful. The young people of Neve Shalom\Wahat al Shalom were wonderful - even those that didn’t work in the camp were willing to help and volunteer, such as when we had a trip outside the village or when one of the leaders couldn’t come. They joined in the football games and sat with the kids at night to talk and discuss things.

The hardest part of the whole experience was to hear all the wishes of the children of what they would like to do, while working on a tight budget. I know that I can’t make all their wishes come true but at least made them happy with the activities we did accomplish during the week of their stay.

It will always make me both sad and happy to see their astonishment at how big the sea is and how salty it is. I was sad when I heard from some of them that this was their first time in Jerusalem and their first time to see the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Old City. This makes me realize again and again how fortunate we are and how unfortunate they are due to the closure that they live under. It was hard for me to hear them say that they don’t want to go back home and that they wish that they could stay with us, knowing that I can’t promise to ever bring the same group back. It was lovely to see how they enjoyed to play and work with our wonderful leaders and that they were happy to do the things that we offered. In spite of all these mixed feelings, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the people who made this Camp possible, if not for us but for the children. Once again I thank you and hope things will get better.

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