The Worker through History

Orit Soudry

ON SUNDAY July 4, 2004, the Baqa Center and WAC (Workers Advice Center) concluded their educational year, as always, with a week-long summer camp. Its theme was "The Place of Labor in the Development of Civilization."

The camp included 100 children from the Baqa Center in Jaffa and WAC's branches in Nazareth and Um al-Fahm. They were aided by 40 volunteers, mostly from WAC's youth organizations.

Anyone who follows the reports on the summer camps in Challenge is aware of their special themes, chosen with a view to societal needs. Last year, for example, the camp focused on the war in Iraq, beginning from that country's heritage in ancient Mesopotamia. When the State of Israel supports such a war, Arab children find themselves caught between contradictory messages. How can they cope with these? They learned, last year, about the various periods in the Iraqi heritage, from Hammurabi of Babylon through the Abbasids until our day. We tried to put current events in a historical perspective, showing that kingdoms, regimes and occupations do not last forever.

This year we decided to take labor as a theme. The educational program was intended not just for the children, but also for the counselors from among WAC's youth. Asma Agbarieh, director of the Um al-Fahm camp, tells the following story:

"Among Arabs in Israel the term 'worker,' used for the manual worker, carries a connotation of failure. Our youth in Nazareth and Um al-Fahm have already 'learned on their flesh,' as we say, that to be a worker is not just to have a certain vocation: it's to belong to a certain class. Here's an example from my experience in Um al-Fahm. This was the first time we organized a summer camp there. A month before the starting date, we began to go around signing up children. The youth group – most of them workers, along with a few high school students – took part in the registration drive. I joined one of WAC's young workers, whom we'll call Hassan. He is extremely sociable. As we walked along the street, he stopped every couple of yards to greet someone he knew. We went from house to house and succeeded in signing up many of the WAC workers' kids. I knew that Hassan had little brothers and sisters that we could sign up too, but I noticed that he avoided bringing me to his house. Finally, I persuaded him. His mother welcomed me graciously, telling me that Hassan talks all the time about the jama'iyya (WAC) and its activities, the meetings and trips he takes part in. I was glad to hear this, but as soon as his elder brothers and sisters entered the living room, his mother changed her tone. She introduced them one after another. Some had studied at the college level, and some were studying still. One is an accountant, another is in education, a third is an automobile appraiser, and so on. We heard the credentials of five siblings. Then she came to Hassan: 'He's the only one who didn't make it,' she said. 'He wound up being a worker like his father.' I looked at Hassan and understood why he hadn't wanted to bring me here. He's ashamed of himself in his own home! I could see he was edgy, impatient to get the conversation over with. His mother went on to ask me what the camp is about. I told her, 'About the importance of the worker to society.' It is the worker, I said, who creates the wealth that moves the society forward. In WAC, I added, the worker is not just someone who works hard. He is an active person, socially conscious, who studies and enters into action as part of a group. The worker in WAC is no less talented than someone who finished college. The worker has capabilities that are not yet realized, and our task is to find them and cultivate them. The camp, for example, is a chance for Hassan and his friends to guide small children. We teach these children that their parents are workers, and we convey the message that they need not be ashamed of that. When Hassan heard me say these things, he relaxed on his chair, and I noticed that he stopped trying to cut the conversation short. We registered his small brothers and sisters."

We designed the camp's program to represent the major periods in the history of humankind, from the prehistoric hunters and gatherers to the information revolution.

Day One: Pre-historic Humanity

The children of the three centers gathered in the caves of Mt. Carmel, which served as home to human beings for 200,000 years without a break. The site provides its own professional guide, who was bombarded with questions.

The children made sparks from the stones that were scattered in the caves. They then met the three "wandering workers" who would accompany them throughout the week, one for each camp. The "wandering worker" is based on the very successful "Sinbad" of last year's camp. (See Challenge No. 81.) One of the counselors dresses up each day as a person from the period and tells the children about it, using songs and recitations. On this first day, to the children's great surprise, the three wandering workers burst into the caves dressed in animal skins. Holding bones and primitive hunting gear, they scavenged food from among the children. In the days to follow, the wanderers would not be so frightening.

Art student Ra'afat Khattab was the "wandering worker" of the Jaffa camp:

"We aren't trained actors. We wrote a script about the period, but I forgot the lines, so I improvised. I hope it didn't detract, because I myself had such a good time. I made a big map, and the kids glued onto it things that characterized each day. On the first day, they put pictures of bonfires. On the second, the day of the agricultural revolution, they put various crops. On the third, the day of trade and commerce, we drew tools from the period, as well as sailing ships and markets. On the fourth, the day of the industrial revolution, the map was crowded. Beside the crops were skyscrapers and factories sprang up on part of the pastureland. We made big cities, and on the fifth day we added space satellites and planes and personal computers everywhere. This developing map showed the kids what enormous progress human beings have made from the time when they lived in caves."

Day Two: The Agricultural Revolution

The wandering worker, sporting a big fat belly, entered in a robe. "I'm hungry," he said. While searching for food in his hut, he saw his wife hiding seeds. They argued. He wanted to eat the seeds at once, but she wanted to put them away for hard times. They finally divided the seeds, and she stored hers in the ground of their yard. A week later she looked and behold! A plant was growing from her hiding place! Thus we described the beginning of agriculture. After the performance, each child put a bean on a bit of wet cotton, checking now and then as it sprouted.

There wasn't a single dull moment. On the bus to the pool, the children opened a radio station, Baqa FM, using the bus microphone. One was the announcer, and the others got up in turn and talked about themselves. Others sang and sent greetings to family and friends. Radio Baqa FM accompanied the camp on every outing.

Day Three: Art and Commerce

This was one of the camp's high points. The wandering worker was hungry. He went to market to sell some rugs he had woven. Someone offered him silver, but he replied that he couldn’t eat silver.

We then turned to art workshops. The children made some things that they could swap for others at the market. The Baqa Center in Jaffa devotes a large part of its activities to art. But a market? That was something new. Orian Zakkai, a student at Tel Aviv University and a long-time volunteer at Baqa Jaffa, had this to say:

"The market day was very exciting. I was struck by the creative, relaxed atmosphere. They made bead chains. Knowing the children, who come from a disadvantaged environment, I was concerned that they wouldn't want to exchange them. I thought their reaction would be, 'This is mine, I made it, and I want to keep it.' After a couple of workshops where they also made clay impressions and little figures and musical instruments, they got together to make a market with booths. We brought out sacks of clothes, and the kids dressed up as adults going to market. Then without any hesitation at all, they presented their wares beside those of their friends. Almost everything was exchanged. They gladly took things made by others and gave up their own. I too was drawn in. I exchanged my necklace for something which I then exchanged again and again."

Day Four: The Industrial Revolution

This time the children did not have to look to the past, rather to the period they are living in. The camps visited various factories. The Jaffa group visited a mechanized bakery, where the children made rolls, after which they went to Tnuva, Israel's biggest milk producer. The group from Um al-Fahm visited a construction site staffed by WAC workers, and in this way some of the children got to see the place where their fathers work. The Nazareth group visited the electric company.

That day the wandering worker arrived all sweaty, covered with coal dust. In the past, he said, he had woven rugs. But he hadn't been able to keep up with the weaving machines. "Your rugs are too expensive," people told him. In the end, he had to become a factory worker. The children then played a game called Machine, each choosing a motion and sound to fit those that her predecessor had chosen.

Days Five and Six: The Information Revolution. Conclusion.

The wandering worker arrived dressed in a suit and tie. All excited, he showed the children his new cell phone. He recited all the wonderful features of progress:

"The world is smaller now. I can know what's happening anywhere at anytime. TV, internet, cell phones. The world is lovely! Everyone sees what a lovely world it is! And me? What's up with me? I am, unfortunately, unemployed. They transferred our textile plant to China. What a lovely world! But I have no job in it. (The phone rings.) Nee how chang! (Aside to the children:) That means hello in Chinese. It's Chang, my friend from China. He works for a company that used to be in Israel. He's complaining about his salary. (To Chang:) Chang, how much do you make per day? What! Only five shekels! (To the children) Now I understand why the company moved its factories to China. (To Chang:) Hey, let's go on strike! We'll go to WAC. They've got internet in their office. We'll organize a big strike.

"(To the children:) We've come such a long way since people lived in caves, and here we are in the year 2004, and there's still so much to do in order that life should be good for the workers. There's still a lot to change in the world. See you later, kids, I've got to go and organize a demonstration!"