All of us at Lajee Center, staff, volunteers, members and wider community, would like to wish our friends all over the world a very Merry Christmas and we hope you have a restful break with family and friends. We wish you all a Happy New Year when it comes. We hope in the new year we will celebrate all together in a free Palestine.
We want to take this opportunity to reflect on the past year, a year which has been marked by difficulties for all of us. With the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, we have worked hard to provide much needed activities and projects for Aida Camp’s community. In April this year, we lost our dear friend, brother and director Salah Ajarma. Salah gave us many things to continue, he worked hard with each of us to develop our own initiative and work part of a team with the wider community. We continue each activity and project with Salah firmly in our hearts and minds always, his strength, character and vision will guide all of us forward.
Lajee staff and volunteers organized a ceremony for Salah in July this year in recognition of his life, work and the immense impact he had and legacy he has left within our community and beyond. The ceremony was presented by Issa Qaraqi and Shatha Alazza and there were talks by Khaled Alazraq, head of Lajee’s Board, MCC and Taysir Nasrallah, who spoke on behalf of the local organizations and political parties. The ceremony included music by children from the Camp, a film screening about Salah’s life, a photography exhibition and a dance performance choreographed by Lajee Center’s first generation of dancers. There were over 800 attendees from the North and South of Palestine, while many hundreds of people all over the world watched the ceremony live online. A memorial plaque was unveiled for Salah at the entrance of Lajee’s garden.
This year we implemented many activities and initiatives which we would like to highlight and celebrate. In June, we organized the children’s summer camp supported by MCC with 200 children, ages 6 to 15 years old, participating in educational and recreational activities over 2 weeks. The Environmental Unit summer camp was held during August for the new generation of students in the Unit. They were various lectures building the knowledge and capacity of students about the environment, planting activities and field trips. Al Awda summer camp was held for 13- to 16-year-olds. This short camp was developed during a training session with Lajee Center and BADIL and lead by Lajee. The activities aimed to critically develop participants knowledge of Palestinian rights in an accessible and educational way. We hosted a winter camp for women who have been participating in the Health & Environment project. This camp worked with 70 patients from Aida and Alazza Camps for a 5-day program with lectures on health and the environment. We had different speakers including specialist doctors and nurses. The last day included a trip to the Turkish baths in Bethlehem for the participants.
We hosted an Eid festival on 22nd July which included a fun day of face-painting, a bouncy castle and clowns. On 28th July, we invited 50 children from Beit Askarya, a village surrounded by Israeli settlements, to provide entertainment and fun activities for the children and build relations between the children in both our communities. We hope to organise a summer camp next year in Beit Askaraya to support the steadfastness of their community.
In August, we opened Zaharet Al-Yasmeen Kindergarten which is located below Lajee Center and is for 3 and a half to 5 year old children from Aida Camp and the surrounding areas. We have two classes with 25 children in each. This is an inclusive kindergarten welcoming children of all needs and abilities. The curriculum is focused on learning and development through play and is drawn particularly from the Reggio Emilia approach that puts children at the center of their learning. This is a much-needed initiative within the Camp and it facilitates an open, inclusive environment for children to explore their creativity. The kindergarten was one of Salah’s dreams and sadly he was not here to see its opening, but it is an honor for Lajee Center to be implementing and continuing his vision.
In August this year, Lajee Center hosted elections for the new Board of Directors. The new Board includes Mohammad Alazza who was appointed Director of the Lajee Center. Mohammad has grown up with Lajee, participating as a volunteer and then as Director of the Media Unit. Of his new appointment he said: “Becoming Director after Salah’s passing is not easy. I never imagined taking on this role in the absence of Salah. I had wanted to do this while he was alive so he can see how all of his work with youth has had an effect.” Khaled Alazraq is the new head of the Board, Mohammed Dibs is the deputy head, Amani Asad is treasurer, Athal Alazza is the Secretary and the following members were elected: Yazan Ikhlayel, Abdulfateh Dajneeh, Jihad Alajarma, Shatha Abusrour and Faris Malash.
On 31st October, we organised a Bazaar market for women in the Camp who are participating in the Health & Environment Initiative to sell the produce they have been harvesting. There were also other stalls for people in Bethlehem selling vegetables, fresh bread, food and healthy sweets, handmade crafts, embroidery and glass, photography and corners for health checks, information on healthy foods and breast cancer. There were performances by dance groups, clowns, the circus school, Lajee music group and women singing traditional Palestinian songs. This is the second health and environment Bazaar we have coordinated and this year it proved more popular with over 1000 attendees. This is an initiative we hope to continue as it crucially supports local production and a way for the community to participate in the boycott of Israeli goods.
This year we developed the Hydroponic Garden on Lajee’s roof with the support of 1 for 3. We hosted lectures for women, provided training in planting and harvesting and each time a different group of women were able to take home the produce they harvested. We have supported over 30 families in Aida Camp with this project and it is something we are planning to expand.
We would also like to take the time to reflect on the issues Palestinian community organizations have been experiencing with regards to external funding since 2019. Donor organizations and funders have been imposing certain conditions on funding which in particular condemns and criminalizes the Palestinian struggle. Lajee Center stands against these conditions and we will continue to work together with our friends and partners in our struggle for all Palestinian rights.
Over and above all of these special activities, we have maintained our day-to-day projects, including the dabka dance training, the circus school, music project, library activities and women’s unit. It is important to acknowledge the tireless work and effort of Lajee’s staff members, who have taken the responsibility to implement all of this work as part of a team. All of our activities and units have thrived this year and it is a testament to their belief in the work and the strong relations they continue to foster with the community. This is incredibly important for our new generation of children who are enabled to see that it is possible that they can lead, have an impact and initiate transformative change within the community.
We want to take the time to thank all of our local and international friends, supporters and partners all over the world, without your support and solidarity we would not be able to continue our work within Aida Camp and the surrounding communities.