Recent violence in the Middle East has disrupted the everyday lives of countless Palestinians, including the Encompass Journey of Understanding alumni who make up the Palestinian Steering Group. Nevertheless, Ameed, Abood, Hend, Carmel, Mahmoud, Rawan, Farah, Marina, Ibrahim and Hussam were determined to go ahead with plans for their first Youth Summer Camp, aimed at bringing together young people from different communities and religions in the West Bank.
The project was scheduled for 10th-13th August at the Samaritan Peace Centre in Nablus. Thinking that young people from the south would not be able to come as movement in the West Bank was restricted, they invited more young people from the north. However, a last minute lightening of the siege on checkpoints meant that groups from Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jenin were able to join after all... by which time it was too late to uninvite the children from the north! So a total of 40 participants, almost double the number they were planning for, turned up!
Despite various logistical challenges (the tables were missing, the caterers cancelled and they only had 29 sleeping bags and 8 sofas for 52 people!) everyone got stuck in with the activities, which included plenty of games, and a tour of the Samaritan village to learn more about this ancient community and the customs that they have observed for over 3,600 years.
The alumni ran workshops focussing on identity, community and conflict and said it was amazing to see the kids making realisations that they’d never made before; about their own identities, the similarities between them, and the power they had to positively or negatively affect their communities.
The second day ended with a quiz about the different communities in Palestine followed by a talent show and dance party, but the next morning brought with it a new challenge: no running water! Once again the alumni had to rework their plans – filling empty bottles with water from a local neighbourhood faucet. The kids, seeing the difficulties, helped prepare breakfast, working together to ensure that everyone was fed, and then packed the sleeping bags and cleaned the venue! Given that most of these kids had never even made a sandwich for themselves before, it was an incredible testament to the lessons they had learnt about community and how to give of themselves to make it better – we hope they take this learning back to their homes!
The programme ended with a pizza party and a local treat; “knefeh”, the famous sweet dessert of Nablus. There was a mad exchange of social media accounts and email addresses, with lists as long as their arms!
The 10 Encompass alumni who led this project were themselves from different backgrounds and religions: Samaritan, Christian and Muslim. They said they learned more than they ever imagined they would and were proud of themselves and the participants for working together to overcome the problems thrown their way.
“Thanks Encompass Trust for giving us the opportunity to break the ice between us and other people, we really enjoyed the camp. I myself have learned how to be responsible for other people especially when it comes to kids. I learned how to think about other people before thinking about myself which makes me a good leader, I think, and what really made me happy was how the kids themselves helped each other and acted like a family even though they didn't know each other before. I know that some goals of the camp were not met the way we wanted, but I know we met some, and that's amazing as it's our first time. The campers and I made new friendships, we got the opportunity to know about the Samaritan religion and culture, and it was very joyful, hope we can do it again soon!” Carmel Tayeh, Encompass alumni
“It was really amazing... I enjoyed visiting Mount Gerazim and the basketball and our friends there and playing games and dancing ... I learnt how to be real friend and how to make new friends with other religions ... thanks a lot, it was great.” Diala, participant from Nablus
“The Samaritan Peace Center on Gerazim was a good experience for me, and I'll never forget it.
I met people who were friendly and good friends to me, without thinking about differences in our religions. I felt so excited when we started doing activities and banners that support Palestine! Really the camp was the best thing that I've done in my life.” Warde, participant from Tulkarem