Zajel Opens the International Work Camp 2006:

 “Meet Palestine - In the Memory of Asem


July 13, 2006.


International Work Camp 2006: “Meet Palestine - In the Memory of Asem


Despite the obvious worries and obstacles presented by the current instability in the region, the 2006 Zajel International Volunteer Work Camp “Meet Palestine” opened this week as planned. This year’s camp is dedicated to the memory of Asem Yousef, a talented local Zajel volunteer who passed away only a few months ago.  


The camp will run from July 12 until July 31, 2006. We’re very fortunate to have such a diverse group of international volunteers this year, with people coming from Japan, South Korea, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa and the USA. There are 22 participants in total.


The International Work camp is an annual project hosted by the Zajel Youth Exchange Program of the Public Relations Department of An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. It has been designed to provide international volunteers the opportunity to meet and discuss the Middle Eastern conflict, share ideas, enhance their practical skills, foster exchange between Palestinians and the wider world, and give assistance to members of the Palestinian community.

Volunteers will work in the Social Development Center of Askar refugee camp. They will be hosting a number of different workshops there, designed both to suit the needs of the children in Askar, and to effectively tap into the diverse array of talents the volunteers bring. The mission of the work camp is to help improve the lives of these children by organizing and supervising activities that are both educational and recreational. The main workshop activities will be counselling and psychological support, sports, music, arts, drama, and working with the disabled. This is especially important during the summer months, when the children of the refugee camp are not in school, and have little to do and no other outlets for their time and energy. We aim to provide them with as many positive experiences as we can in a very negative situation.


Next to offering its participants an opportunity to volunteer at Askar refugee camp, the second goal of the International Work Camp is to give our international volunteers an inside view on cultural, social and political life in Palestine. This educational aspect of the camp takes the form of study tours, lectures on diverse subjects, discussions, meetings with prominent local and extra-local figures, and a host of cultural activities. Lectures cover history, religion, political geography, women’s issues, the plight of Palestinian refugees, and youth-related issues. The study tours include visits to local community associations, cultural clubs and institutions. Cultural activities, on their part, not only provide some welcome down time, but are also an excellent opportunity for the local and international volunteers to fraternize and learn more about each other’s cultures.


The organizers started the evening off with a number of games aimed at mixing up the group and getting to know everyone’s name. After some light refreshments, Vanessa Edward and Yasmine Van Pee, both long term volunteers at Zajel Program, gave a short overview of social do’s and don’ts and of local cultural customs. The camp schedule and various tasks were explained by some of the local volunteers, after which Saed Abu-Hijleh, Director of An-Najah National University’s Public Relations Department, concluded the evening with a strong and emotional closing speech, in which he drew everyone back to the real reason all of us are here: the harsh realities of life in occupied Palestine.



Some first impressions from the organizers:


Jehad Fiddah, camp leader: “I’m relieved that all our participants made it to Nablus, you cannot imagine how happy I was when our international participants started dripping in today and were reporting only minor difficulties.”


Mira Nabulsi, a member of the steering committee, added: “I’m just happy that, even with all the instability in the region, the camp could go ahead as planned, It is really heartwarming to see that 22 internationals still found the courage to come to the camp and show us their solidarity.”


Vanessa Edward, current Zajel long term volunteer: “This year’s work camp participants look like an interesting and passionate group of people. It’s good to see the group is so diverse – different ages, different nationalities, different backgrounds. I look forward to working with them over the next three weeks, and to get to know them better.”


Mais Jamous, a local Zajel volunteer, added: “I’m convinced that this will be a very successful work camp. I’ve been involved in a number of previous camps, and have a really good feeling about this one. It’s amazing to see people from so many different countries, and I truly feel fortunate to be able to meet them all. I also deeply appreciate that these people found the courage to travel here; they overcame many obstacles to join our work camp and it’s obvious they have us in their harts.”


Fawaz Lubbadeh, another local Zajel volunteer mentioned that: “It will be wonderful to watch the volunteers during their first visit to Askar refugee camp, to see them meet the children and discover what they can do for them. I’m also really looking forward to tonight’s activities: a guided tour of the old city and then relaxing at a local Turkish bath. I think it’s really important that, apart from seeing the harsh realities of life under occupation, internationals also get a taste of the pleasure we Palestinians still find in life. Our reality is both: brutal occupation and having fun with friends.”