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Summer 2019 Camp in Aida : for solidarity and committed volunteering

The International Summer Work Camp is a program annually organized  by Lajee Centre to give internationals the opportunity to learn about Palestinian culture, the struggle for human rights and life under occupation. During the two week camp participants are submerged in Palestinian culture by way of food, music, dance, history, films, politics, field trips, volunteer work  and interaction with the community of the Aida camp.

The program helps to broaden participants’ knowledge of various and diverse fields, such as history, education, health, culture and politics among others.  Activities include lectures from Palestinian activists, visits to other organizations, museums, film screenings, trips in different cities and camps in the West Bank, spending time with families, volunteers and staff of Lajee Center.

Being part of the camp gives the opportunity to get in contact with Palestinians, their stories, their experiences in order to be able to get a better picture of life in Palestine, learning with and from Palestinians about the occupation they suffer. This goal encompasses with the willingness of outreaching as many people as possible that Lajee Centre offers with this camp. The program  boosts and encourages internationals to think critically thanks to first-hand reality witnessed on the ground, drifting apart from mainstream /western media that the world is mainly exposed to. 

During the two weeks the participants join a varied amount of activities leading them to fulfil the aim of the International Summer Camp. There are different areas that we could talk about when referring to the program, focusing in culture, education, politics, etc.

To mention some, this year, the 19th international summer work camp, started with a presentation of Lajee Centre and Aida Camp as the main base for the group.

The Lajee Centre’s staff and volunteers organized diverse activities for camp participants. These activities included Arabic lessons, Dabke dance lessons, practical work in the center, leisure time with staff, volunteers and community members in addition to educational lectures given by various units of the center. This helped to create a connection with the people that host and make this program possible and introduce the internationals to the context of life under occupation in the West Bank.

To enumerate a few of the leisure activities mentioned above, the internationals had the opportunity to spend time with families and cook with them traditional Palestinian food. They also organized activities for the kids of the Summer Camp that Lajee hosts every year, or they spent a night camping in the desert with the staff and volunteers of the center, what brought them the possibility to enjoy getting closer to each other and to the astonishing nature around them.

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In addition to the time spent observing and learning in Aida there were visits to both the Deheshe Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and the Balata Camp in Nablus allowing participants to observe similarities and differences in daily life. Day trips to Ramallah and Hebron offered further exposure to art, history and culture where the internationals met locals who guided them through the historical, political and economical context of the cities. The day trips included visits to museums, cultural centers, factories, resource centers and organizations working in the field of justice, human rights, media, among others. These activities allow the participants, not just to learn about the work that locals are doing but also how everyone of them is resisting the Israeli occupation.

Other teaching methods used were film screenings and lectures by different speakers, who were both sharing their work and experiences dealing with topics such as prisoner`s lives, reintegration of children after incarceration, the reality and limitations of journalists/film makers in Palestine, etc.   

The program is arranged in a way that anyone, no matter their understanding or previous knowledge about Palestine can get the most out of this hand on learning experience.

To conclude the two week camp experience the participants shared feedback, considerations and ideas. Some mentioned the possibility to add activities related to healthcare in Palestine, suggestions were: visits to hospitals, clinics, disability centres.

 After the introduction to the situation in Palestine, all the participants shared their will to get involved in activities, actions or projects in the long term. One of the ideas to help aid in this goal is to create a platform where participants and staff from Lajee could discuss, propose and follow up on the different ideas.

Overall, every participant expressed their enthusiasm and gratefulness towards everyone who took part in the organisation of the camp, making this programme possible.

 The variety of the activities and content were very much appreciated. The knowledge gained during the 2 weeks and the manner in which participants were obtaining that knowledge from the Palestinian people made the experience an authentically powerful and tangible one, much greater than anything someone could ever read about or study. 

Common appreciation by the participants was the time spent with the Aida community across the generational spectrum and always feeling welcomed, supported, and appreciated as scholars, volunteers and new members of the large, loving family of the Aida Refugee Camp.

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