Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
التضامن الإيرلندي الفلسطيني

[Palestine] The 14th Lajee International Summer Work Camp (Lajee Centre)

For the fourteenth year, Lajee Center is organizing its annual International Summer Work Camp. Over the last decade, Lajee has hosted hundreds of international volunteers from different countries to share two weeks of their lives with refugees of Aida Camp in Bethlehem. They came looking for a life changing experience, and as many participants confirm, they found it.

4th – 17th of August

Lajee Center in short: ‘Lajee’ means ‘refugee’ in Arabic. The 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 is a community-based, grassroots, creative, cultural center that works with new generations of Palestinians in their ongoing struggle for justice and rights for Palestine and all Palestinians.

Lajee Center works in full support of all national, human, and moral rights without exception. Lajee projects and programmes focus in some way on the inalienable ‘Right of Return’ for all refugees, stipulated in the United Nations Resolution 194 (December 1948). Lajee Center is built on the foundations of openness and equality: we do not accept financial support from any political factions, and all of our projects are gender inclusive. Furthermore, the Center is an active signatory of the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli apartheid regime. Our BDS commitment is implemented across all Lajee Center programmes and we actively raise awareness about BDS through networking, workshops, and education.

Aida Camp in Short:

Aida Refugee Camp was established in 1950, near Bethlehem in Palestine following the “Nakba” (“catastrophe”) of 1948. Initially, Palestinian refugees were promised the right of return to their original homes by UN Resolution 194. At first Palestinians in Aida Camp lived tents and then small single-room containers set up by UNRWA. Over 60 years later, Palestinian refugees now live in houses which they have built for themselves. There are approximately over 5,000 refugees residing in Aida Camp, more than half of whom are children. As Aida’s population continues to grow, the physical size of the camp remains constant and it is now enclosed on two sides by the Israeli apartheid wall. Many problems faced by residents today are regular invasions by the Israeli occupation forces, severe water shortages, lack of medical facilities, overcrowding, and no open spaces.

Lajee International Summer Work Camp

The main objective of the Summer Work Camp is to provide participants with the opportunity to meet, learn and work with Palestinian refugees living under occupation. With a diverse group of volunteers, participants will learn about the refugee situation in Palestine; meet with various civil society organisations and media networks; visit local collectives and learn about the many issues affecting Palestinians, including political imprisonment. It is an educational experience, providing an insight into the Palestinian case and the social justice work of Lajee Center. Moreover, volunteers will participate in a mixture of activities with children and youth of Aida Camp, and volunteers within Lajee Center.

Last year we welcomed volunteers from Belgium, Australia, Greece, USA, Italy, Denmark, Mexico, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, and England. Throughout the programme, they worked on the land behind Lajee Center, cleaning and planting trees. They sang and danced with children and teenagers, listened to their stories and experiences, and fostered friendships.

This year participants will work on the land behind Lajee Center where a beautiful garden was built for the kids to play. Volunteers will be able to help in the garden by painting the walls and creating a vibrant space for children, youth and families to enjoy. Furthermore, the programme will include:

-Speakers: talks will be given by local people from different backgrounds speaking about political, social, and economic issues in Palestine. There will also be interesting discussions on media coverage in Palestine with visits to media institutions, documentary screenings, and meeting journalists.
-Participating in activities with children, such as football, basketball, and any games or activity suggestions and ideas from volunteers.
-Experiencing Palestinian culture: learning dabka (traditional folk-dance); visiting families and cooking with women in Aida Camp; and visiting different cities such as Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus.
-Learning basic Arabic for conversation
-Outdoor camping for one night, near the Monastery of Mar Saba.
-One free day to explore other places in Palestine

Comments from Volunteers from last year’s summer camp:

“The most crucial feature of the summer camp was the participants’ chance to listen to the voice of Palestinian people first-hand. During my stay in Palestine I learned about various topics ranging from education to human rights and had the opportunity to listen to personal stories and opinions. The hospitality, openness and sincerity of the Palestinians I met were beyond incredible. Although the weight and density of the knowledge I received proved somewhat overwhelming at times, the light-heartedness and the admirable sense of humor of the Palestinians made my two-week-long stay fun and joyful. The summer camp did not only give me an above average quality of information on the Palestinian situation, it also introduced me to truly amazing people, and reassured me on the importance of basic human values such as solidarity, tolerance, openness and endurance. (With the need to reinforce my solid belief that in the course of the resolution of the conflict leadership should under all circumstances remain in the hands of the Palestinian people, I would argue that this experience gave a solid example of the possible means of co-operation and understanding on the part of the international solidarity movement.) I believe I speak on behalf of every participant when I say that the summer camp presented us with such an extraordinary experience that the Palestinian question will invariably remain close to our hearts.” Zsofie Patkai-Kiss, 22, Hungary.

“The Lajee Center’s International Summer Camp in Aida Refugee Camp was a unique opportunity where, during two weeks, I and other 24 international volunteers were able to be in deeply contact with the Palestinian culture, history, political, economic and social issues and with the Palestinian people. During the Summer Camp we had an intensive program of talks, movies, visits, games with the Palestinian kids, work in the land and exchange of experiences. We also had time to have fun: the coordinators of the program were really welcoming and kind and we all got together with each other and became friends even after the program was over. Even if each one of us had our own reasons to participate on the program, we all had the same main motive in the end: a will to learn and to comprehend the scenario that we were seeing with our own eyes. I highly recommend the International Summer Camp from Lajee Center to those people that are interested in the Palestinian cause and in the Palestinian reality once that it is an unforgettable experience and chance to be in a place like Palestine and to be with such humble and kind people like the Palestinians.” Manuela da Rosa Jorge, 23, Brazil.

What you need to bring:

An open mind and eagerness to learn.

Work clothes and trainers for working on the land, sun hat, scarf, sleeping bag if you want (we have mattresses), sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and lots of ideas for games with children.

We recommend comfortable and modest clothing: for example no shorts, no tight-fitting clothes or cut-off shirts, remembering you are visiting a different country with different social norms than your own.

Cost: 400 Euros which is inclusive of accommodation, food (home cooked meals), and local transportation throughout the programme. Flights and round-trip to and from Jerusalem should be covered by participants. A Lajee Center representative will meet the group in Jerusalem and travel with them to Aida Camp. The maximum number of international participants is 30 with the minimum age 18 years old and no maximum age.

For more information and application forms, please contact Mohammad at: aida_camp_194@yahoo.com, and at info@lajee.org.

Organised by the Lajee Cultural Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine