Lajee Center was established in Aida Refugee Camp in April 2000 by a group of 11 young people from the Camp who wanted to serve the community. Lajee’ means ‘refugee’ in Arabic. Lajee is a community-based grassroots creative cultural center that works with new generations of Palestinians as they continue their ongoing struggle for justice and rights for Palestine and all Palestinians. The center began as a dream for its creators who worked intensively and with true Palestinian ‘sumoud’ (steadfastness) in order to make that dream become a reality. By April 2001, Lajee had rented its first premises, a former garage measuring 70 square meters that was to be Lajee’s base until 2009. In the same month Lajee was registered with the Ministry of NGO Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority.
The main aim of the center is to provide refugee youth and women with cultural, educational, social and developmental opportunities. Its programs are designed in response to the particular needs of the community and the skills and abilities of its members, whilst always remaining in full support and defense of all Palestinian rights. Lajee organizes cultural, social, and artistic activities, with the aim to develop social and rights-based awareness in refugee youth and women although our work is not exclusive to refugees; our projects and activities are open to all Palestinians in the Bethlehem area. While our activities are based in Aida Camp, we also have active members from Dheisheh and Al-Azza Refugee Camps, and the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Ad-Doha. Members range in age from young children of 4 years up to youth in their twenties, as well as women aged 30+ years. We continuously strive to open our projects up to new members from Aida Camp and the surrounding areas and expand our volunteer base. It structures and implements its activities in such a way as to eliminate all forms of discrimination against social class or gender. Activities are organized with the goal of fostering in the participants a wider understanding of the world in which they live, focusing on issues relating specifically to their own society, culture and history, as well as the global context. Our hope is to develop the social awareness of members, deepen their education, and provide them with the critical skills necessary for them to take on an active role in their society.
Lajee has built links with several local and international organizations which assist the center in conducting its activities. Local organizations include a network of active centers in Palestinian refugee camps that was established through Lajee’s ‘OUR VOICE’ project who are working collectively and creatively towards joint goals of freedom and justice. These organizations include BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, the Refugee Service Affairs Committee, and several other Palestinian organizations and NGO’s. Internationally, Lajee has the working support of many organizations including the Mennonite Central Committee, Playground for Palestine, 1for3, MacMillon, Grassroots, AVSI Palestine, HOPING Foundation, The Pontifical Mission, the Belgian Technical Cooperation, and Broederlijk Delen amongst many others. Over and above Lajee’s relationships with organizations, the center’s work and development would not have been possible without the incredible support we have received from many friends around the world. Individual people have, since the Lajee dream was born, stood by the center through support of our work and goals in terms of solidarity, project development, and in several cases through financial backing. All these people to date, and all future friends, support our belief in grassroots people-to-people tangible and internationalist solidarity.