Summer camp 2006

Sharon Horodi

Curiosity as a Key to Change

What happens to the sun after it sets? How many stars are there? How are mountains formed? These were the kinds of questions asked by both children and camp leaders during the joint Hanitzotz Publishing House and WAC summer camp (July 9-15, 2006). Asking questions is most important. A conservative society does not encourage its children to ask for fear that this may lead to things that it is "better not to know…"

For ten years the summer camp has been presenting new and unfamiliar worlds to the children, to develop their awareness of their surroundings, both near and far, and to advance their understanding of Palestinian history and the class structure of society. "This time we focused on the natural world around us," says Hanan Manadreh, one of the Nazareth summer camp organizers. "We didn't try to cover all aspects of such a vast subject, but offered a glimpse into the living world – the soil beneath us and the skies above – in the hope that it would leave a taste for more."

The summer camp was held at the beginning of July at the Hanitzotz/WAC community centers in Nazareth and Kufr Qara. Taking part were 130 children and 30 leaders. For the first time, a large group of children from Kufr Manda also participated. Most of the parents are WAC members.

Each day, the "wandering scientist"– one of the camp leaders with a talent for acting – came to visit the children and lead the morning's discussion. On the first day, he arrived in clothes covered with question marks, which he then began sticking on different objects – each question mark presenting a different puzzle. What is the table made of? How does the lamp light up when we press the switch? How does the water get to the faucet? The children, who sat enthralled, presented their own questions each day on the giant board. "Do flowers sleep?" was one such original question!

All the children, ranging from six to twelve years of age, became young researchers for the week, and the summer camp itself was a voyage of discovery among museums, the planetarium and zoos – with the wandering scientist leading each day's subject.

On the second day, for example, the wandering scientist arrived covered head to toe in plastic bags and other refuse. "What do we do with all this garbage?" he asked. Throw it away, of course! But what happens to it when the garbage truck collects it? The children found themselves confronted with a new issue. How long does it take for a plastic bag to decompose? Twenty years. And a plastic cup? Around 250 years – the cup will "live" longer than us! A Coca Cola can takes 500 years to decompose if it is not recycled, while a glass bottle takes a million years! What do we do with all this garbage? How does the pollution affect the environment? The children found the answers to some of these questions when we visited the Sakhnin Center for Environmental Education and Research. Here they learned about some of the environmental problems afflicting many Arab villages, and about various mosses and other plants that help purify water. The session on recycling was especially popular, with the children making their own recycled paper.

Daedalus in Nazareth

During the Art Day held in the Lubya Forest near Nazareth (named after Kfar Lubia, destroyed in 1948), the children of Nazareth were introduced to the world of birds. The younger children made wings and decorated them, encouraged by a rumor that those who finished would be able to fly. Some children already knew that people cannot fly, but one boy named Muhammed believed the rumor. He and his friends worked hard to finish their wings. Muhammed finished first, and with help from a camp leader, attached them to his shoulders. They were hardly buckled on before he went racing through the trees in an attempt to lift off! After a time, he returned dejected, wings hanging cheerlessly, and understood – "It's all nonsense, I can't fly anyway." Perhaps this small attempt will encourage him to wonder why his wings didn't help…

It wasn't just the children who learned – the leaders were also affected by the workshops. Members of the United Working Youth movement, they participated in a training day on June 30 at Haifa's National Museum of Science, Technology and Space. For many, it was their first visit to the museum. Both young workers and high school students took part as volunteers, sometimes even taking leave from work, and their excitement was infectious.

As at all WAC summer camps, the children learned through artistic activities. They produced recycled paper, created models of the environment, painted and drew, sang and made up riddles, and of course enjoyed the visits to the zoo and swimming pool.

The two camps celebrated the final event together, with performances that built on what had been learned. Parents were also invited to see how their children, within a week, had been transformed into young scientists.

Visit to the West Bank

The children and leaders of the Kufr Qara camp were invited to visit the Culture Center at Beit Anan in the West Bank. In preparation, a day was set aside for learning about the situation in the occupied territories and about the particular history of Kufr Qara. The villagers of Kufr Qara were originally from Kfar Tulat in the West Bank; they left it around 200 years ago. Kufr Qara got its name because its residents were known for growing pumpkins – an unusual crop in those days ("qara" means "pumpkin" in Arabic).

The visit on July 12 to Beit Anan, near Jerusalem, was one of the camp highlights. (Later that day we learned about the outbreak of war.) The director of the Culture Center, Hussam A-Sheikh, explained that the invitation was intended to give Palestinian children from both sides of the separation barrier a chance to meet one another. The meeting was exciting for all, children, camp leaders and accompanying parents alike. The WAC group was greeted by two rows of children who read out a welcoming speech and held banners demanding the end of the Gaza blockade.

One of the leaders greeted the WAC children "in the name of our summer camp, in the name of Jerusalem and Jenin, in the name of the broken land of Palestine, in the name of Huda Jalia (a survivor from the Jalia family, most of whom were killed by an IDF bomb on a Gaza beach), in the name of our martyrs and our wounded. Strong-willed, and despite economic hardships, we have succeeded in putting a smile on the faces of our children and filling them with hope. The checkpoints and the occupying forces' attempts to separate us will fail. Hand in hand, we will march to victory, when we will smile a real smile – young and old alike."

Asma Agbarieh spoke for WAC, saying, "They wanted to build a wall to separate us, but we have broken this wall by coming here today. No wall can separate workers or the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories from those in Israel. Together we will defend the working class and impart internationalist values. Our visit here emphasizes our solidarity with the Palestinian working class in the Territories, which is choking under occupation and unemployment, while the Palestinian workers in Israel suffer from discrimination and unemployment. Our fate is one and our future is one."

Muhammed Athamneh from Kufr Qara spoke for the young people of the village, reminding us that many of them have roots in the West Bank. "We will not be separated," he said. Hussam A-Sheikh was the last to speak, welcoming WAC with the words, "Together we will rebuild the leadership of the Palestinian working class, a leadership that will take up the struggle for freedom."

Then we all paraded around the village, shouting words of solidarity, playing together, acting out a Palestinian wedding and singing many popular folksongs.