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The Arab – Jewish Summer Camp, 2009

August 2009, by Frances Simmons

The summer camp for Jewish and Arab children in Israel runs for three weeks during July, starting after lessons finish for the holiday. At WAS-NS the camp occurs in tandem with the summer camps for Palestinian refugee children from the West Bank. The summer camp is run in partnership with the Open House project in Ramle, sharing the philosophy of bilingual co-education, children from the village and the surrounding area of Lod-Ramle and further afield, attend the camps, based in the Primary School.

This year, 140 children (half of them Jewish and half Arab) took part in the camp. The aim of the activities was to provide the children with innovative activities every day, that would stimulate them to think in new ways, get excited about the things they were learning, be active and have fun.

On the first day, the philosophy of the village was explained to the campers, about the idea of having Arabs and Jews together, what the children do at school and other parts of the village like the House of Silence. From then on, reports kept coming to Yasmin, the WAS-NS pre-school teacher who played a key role in the running of the camps this year, that as more people heard about the camps, they were calling friends and asking why they hadn’t been invited! Yasmin exclaims; “We only had space for 140!”

The program included sports and swimming, music, art, and activities about science, techology, ecology and nature. Among the many activities, some really stood out. A highlight was the trip to the neighbouring Latrun Monastery, where the Abbot gave the children a tour of the site. They children visited the olive press, an important part of Middle Eastern culture. On another day, the owner of a butterfly farm brought in her huge collection of insects and butterflies, including an enormous, hairy tarantula! She taught enraptured (and terrified) audiences about the insects’ habitats, eating habits, life cycles. All of the kids were itching to explore the classroom that had been filled with tents and tanks containing crawling, hiding, flying insects, and as soon as the talk was over, were suddenly transformed into botanists and entomologists. Dance classes in salsa and belly-dancing and the hip-hop sessions were really successful too. Campers had a crash course in how to do the moves, and the hip-hop class gave them the opportunity to perform some well known rap songs.

A lot of thought and discussion went into the program. “We wanted to think of something that’s different, even a little strange”, which is why they came up with the idea of an insect farm, rather than the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. “Everyone always goes to the Zoo...” Yasmin says. The learning is focussed on things that everyone can be interested in, and if they want they can go on and learn more. The campers had session this year about ancient Egyptian civilization, the pharoahs and their customs of mummification. This is something all Israeli children can go and explore for themselves, and maybe see for real one day on a holiday in Egypt, because it is a neighbouring country they can visit.

The children learnt a lot of new skills and took part in all sorts of activities, and they did this in groups of mixed ages, religions, languages, and with children from different places. This is rare, even at WAS-NS, where classes are arranged according to age and ability. From this new mix, children can learn more from one another, rather than just from the teacher. Yasmin says that the best thing from her perspective was that the children got the chance to be together with other children from outside. The children who live and go to school here were really proud to host their families and show them around, explaining things about the village to those who had never visited before. They made new friends from outside, and were constantly exchanging information with them, about their own schools, and where they’re from.

On the camp trips, to the Weissman science museum, a water park, and the cinema, Yasmin started to notice how many of the children were coming to her saying “why does everyone keep asking me about my shirt?” The comments and questions were about the camp t-shirts, which feature writing in both Arabic and Hebrew. Yasmin had to explain to the children why this was so strange for a lot of people: “They’re not looking at your shirt because it’s a nice colour. It is because it’s very special to see the two languages together in Israel. It’s very important. People aren’t used to hearing about a summer camp that is bilingual”.

The Open House will meet with WAS-NS soon to discuss what they’d like to propose for next summer. Yasmin would like to see more interaction between the Arab-Jewish camp and the Palestinian camps that are run alongside them. This year it was difficult because some of the Palestinian children were much older than expected, and so the activities they would have wanted to do didn’t fit with what the kids at the other camp were doing. On a positive note, she was pleased with the participation of the young leaders, who have graduated from the leadership course at the WAS-NS Youth Club (the Nadi). They supervised and arranged many of the activities, and helped keep up the camps’ fresh face, showing tirelessness and real enthusiasm. Other young people from the village, who hadn’t taken part in the course, also approached Yasmin before the camp started, wanting to volunteer. At first she was sceptical, but these teenagers proved themselves by working hard. Yasmin says; “I’m proud of them, they showed themselves to be really committed.”

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