Zajel Concludes its International Summer Camp, Step in the Right Direction, 2007

Over 20 international volunteers participated in this yearís international summer work camp. They were a diverse group representing different countries throughout Europe, North America, and Asia. The international as well as the twenty local volunteers were able to come together and help bridge the cultural gap between them. Volunteers were able to discuss a wide array of issues such as the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, and learn first hand the realities of living in Nablus city.

The main duties of both the international and local volunteers were to help at the Social Development Center at Askar Refugee Camp near Nablus city. Participants were given the opportunity to help the local children. They accomplished this goal through a series of cultural and entertainment activities such as mural painting, dance, and sports. Such activities are desperately needed for the children who suffer so much from the Israeli occupation. Repeated Israeli incursions into the camp cause a severe amount of psychological damage to the youth. Volunteers were able to counter this by allowing the children time to relax and put smiles on their faces.

Besides their heroic work with the children of Askar Refugee camp, the volunteers were also given the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding about the cultural, social and political aspects of Palestinian life. This was accomplished by continuous study visits and cultural activities. Volunteers got to meet with various NGOís, medical organizations, and local businessmen to learn about the effects of the occupation. This was accompanied by cultural activities that allowed both the international and local volunteers to learn about each otherís home countries.

Zajel Youth Exchange Program of the Public Relations Department at An-Najah National University strongly believes that cultural exchange is the first step for change. This gives the international volunteers the tools they need to go back to their home countries and spread the truth about Palestine. For years, some governments, with the help of some media, have destroyed the image of Palestinian youth and culture. It is important for the international community to understand the rich history and culture that is Palestine. We pray that the international volunteers will do their best in spreading this message.

The opening speech of the camp was given by Dr. Nabil Alawi, Director of the Public Relations Department of An-Najah National University, who thanked the international volunteers for showing their solidarity and support, especially in these times of great instability in the region.

Voluntary Work

There were different forms of work that volunteers participated in, which were based at the Social Development Centre in Askar Refugee Camp. The work program had been designed to best suit the needs of the children in Askar Refugee Camp, as well as to effectively utilise the anticipated talents volunteers brought from abroad. The main activities of the summer camp consisted of workshops related to folklore, arts and crafts, reading, sporting, entertainment, as well as workshops on childrenís issues.

The Counseling and Psychological Support Program organized sessions for both groups and individuals to provide support and counseling for the refugee community. Providing assistance in counseling and psychological support was one of the most important aspects of the work camp and a great deal of attention had been put into this area.

International volunteers worked with children playing simple instruments, singing songs and listening to music. In addition to musical activities, a number of workshops had been organized to allow children to develop their creative talents through art. The arts program involved teaching kids how to make art objects out of common items like bottles, rocks and plastic glasses. Other activities organized by volunteers included drawing, painting, hand prints and lots more.

The drama workshop had been shown to be an effective tool for encouraging self-expression and psychological release in which the supervisors helped the children explore their creativity and interests. Working with disabled kids was one of the most vital program for children who were in need of special consideration and treatment. International volunteers participated in painting, dancing, playing instruments and encouraging kids to smile.

Cultural Activities

Creating cultural understandings between the international and local volunteers was a major goal for the camp. Volunteers participated in many activities that helped bridge the cultural gap between them. Volunteers got to spend time visiting traditional Palestinian homes and learn more about Palestinian heritage. The international volunteers were given the amazing opportunity to learn about Palestinian life by spending the night with a local host family.

No cultural exchange program can be completed without international nights. This was a chance for the international volunteers to demonstrate the culture and history of their homelands. It was an evening of singing and chatting. It was a great chance for the local volunteers to get an insight into other cultures. And taste delicious food.

Study Visits

A major part of the summer camp was dedicated to giving the volunteers an insight into the religious, political, economic, and cultural landscape in Palestine. Participants met Basam Al-Shaka`, The Former Mayor of Nablus. They got to learn about Palestinian as well as Arab politics in the sixties, seventies and eighties. They also got to hear about his personal struggle. He ended the discussion with his own predictions for the future of Palestine.

For the past sixty years, the Palestinian Refugee issue has been a topic of discussion. Volunteers got to see the other side of the refugee issue by visiting the refugee camps themselves and seeing the harsh conditions which Palestinians face. Volunteers visited the Yaffa Cultural Center where they were given a presentation by Tayseer Naser Alah, Head of the Center, about the 1948 war. An eyewitness of the war gave his testimony and explained to the volunteers his long story of sufferance; this was followed by a discussion about the history of Palestinian refugees as well as the current conditions they face.

A visit to the Old City of Nablus allowed participants to see the full-scale destruction caused by the Israeli army on some of the cities most historic sites. They were also able to meet local eyewitnesses to the invasions and hear their horrific tales of death and destruction that the Israeli army inflicted.

The volunteers got to spend the day in the industrial zone where they learned about the harsh economic situation that nearly forty years of occupation has created. At a trip to the Hijjawi Printing house and Al-Arez Ice Cream Factory participants learned firsthand the difficulties Palestinian businessmen face when trying to import products from Israel. Paltel Group also gave them an informative discussion about the Palestinian economy, which is the largest corporation in Palestine.

Visits to numerous NGOís as well as the Medical Relief gave participants an in depth look into the heroic practices of many of the organizations that are operating in Palestine. A trip to the Red Crescent Society demonstrated the difficulties and human rights violations that the Israeli army imposed on the local medical staff.

A visit to the Arab Woman Union Society gave the volunteers a chance to learn about the role women played in helping social justice within Palestine. They were given a brief on how the union transformed from a small clinic to one of the largest womenís associations in Palestine.

Entertainment

Participants were also able to enjoy a wide array of entertainment activities that allowed them to see the positive side of Palestinian life. These included a wonderful visit to the Turkish Baths where the volunteers got to enjoy a relaxing evening eating traditional sweets while enjoying a soothing massage. Regular trips to coffee shops and parks created a great atmosphere for both the international as well as local volunteers. Participants also got to enjoy visiting traditional Palestinians markets.

Easily the most enjoyable activities were the picnics. Participants were able to enjoy a relaxing day surrounded by beautiful streams and waterfalls. Volunteers were able to eat, dance Dabka, and converse in a more soothing environment.

Before the camp came to its completion the children of Askr Refugee Camp invited the volunteers to a festival. The children wanted to demonstrate their appreciation for the volunteers by giving a dance performance. This was a very emotional and much needed thanks to the volunteers who dedicated so much of their time to make the camp happen. 

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