We are proud to report that the rooftop gardens project of the Environment Unit is expanding to reach more families in more refugee camps in the West Bank. This project provides food security for the residents who are suffering from the Israeli occupation and through these gardens they feel a sense of connection to their lands which were stolen from them.
The project encourages them to keep their traditions alive, and to continue striving to make significant changes in their lives despite the obstacles that they face. With each seed planted, they resist the eradication of their land, culture and history.
The Environment Unit is monitoring the progress of the gardens and have observed that most families are able to yield crops from their garden every season. The families meet their needs by growing vegetables and fruits organically, without any chemical fertilizers.
The Environment Unit is also working hard on a new project on the rooftop of Lajee Center. Two days ago, children and volunteers worked together in the heat to create some major renovations to the rooftop garden above the center.
The old greenhouse will be turned into a huge, cosy shed where volunteers can hang out with one another and activities can take place.
Garden furniture is crafted out of recycled wooden pallets and the walls of the roof are also being painted on to make the area more vibrant.
We really hope that the rooftop gardens project continues to grow and can impact more families throughout the West Bank.
A month ago, Lajee Center concluded its 18th annual International Summer Work Camp – a two-week programme, where participants work on the ground to support Aida Camp’s community in developing the only free, recreational space in the Camp as well as attend lectures and meetings with leading Palestinians in the fields of media, education, health, politics and social work.
This year, the participants represented eleven different countries – Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Cyprus, France, Germany and Singapore.
For most of the participants, it was their first time being in the West Bank and the camp served as an important means for them to learn about and witness first-hand, the ongoing occupation in Palestine.
As some of them expressed, “just coming here, being in this place, seeing watch towers and an 8-meter-tall apartheid wall along the playground where families gather and play, witnessing the inhumane conditions and systems the Palestinians are subjected to daily such as at checkpoint 300, is an experience that no amount of words, reports or videos can encompass. You have to be here to truly comprehend the reality of the situation.”
The participants also had the pleasure of visiting numerous civil society organisations, attending lectures on the restrictions of expression, the critical water situation, prisoner's lives in Israeli jails, and the struggles of women under occupation. These lectures were enhanced through the screening and subsequent discussions of documentary films made by members of Lajee.
They also learned how to cook traditional Palestinian dishes from the families in Aida, learn basic Arabic, visited cultural and historical museums and meet with people in different refugee camps, villages and towns around the West Bank.
The field visit to Al-Walajah Village allowed the participants to observe for themselves the systems put in place to restrict the rights of Palestinians to their own farms and property. They saw houses that had been demolished by the Israeli forces due to the fact that they had been built or renovated without a building permit (which has to be issued by Israel but never is) and rebuild repeatedly through collective efforts of the entire village. They also saw the ways in which settlements were strategically built to eventually cordon off Palestinian towns from one another.
The tour in Hebron also enlightened the participants on the conditions of which Palestinians there had to live, through security checkpoints in and out of the Old city, surrounded by extremist Israeli settlers who, in certain areas, live above them on the second storey and throw rocks, acid, urine and dirty water onto the Palestinians below. There are around 4900 soldiers deployed to protect roughly 500 settlers in the Old city of Hebron. The participants also saw that there were streets exclusively meant for settlers and also others exclusively for Palestinians. An interesting observation was how the areas meant for settlers were mostly empty ghost towns, symbolically exerting Israeli presence in the area. It was also strange to learn that the Ibrahimi mosque was split into two, a Muslim and a Jewish section after a massacre that happened in the mosque whereby an American-Israeli soldier, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on the Muslims in the mosque who had gathered for the morning prayer. The attack left 29 people dead, some as young as 12 years old and another 125 wounded.
However the participants also had the pleasure of experiencing the immense natural beauty of Palestine. They managed to unwind through camping in Mar Saba desert with the youth of Lajee as well as visited Battir village to watch the sunset together towards the final days of the Summer Work Camp.
All in all, the participants “found the 2018 summer camp to be an eye opening and amazing educational experience. We learnt so much through listening to people’s powerful personal accounts, attending thought-provoking lectures, visiting villages and cities and seeing first-hand what life is like for the Palestinians. This international camp programme was really well structured and skilfully organized. It made it possible for us to attend seminars and meet with people we otherwise may not have been able to if we had come individually.”
Another participant expressed that “sometimes it was difficult to digest and process the stories we were hearing, especially now that I can put a name and a face to the stories”. This opinion was shared by other participants as well, but while it was difficult to process the horrific stories heard, the personal accounts allowed the participants to get to know these storytellers on a personal level as well as strengthened their motivation to spread the message of the Palestinian struggle.
Also importantly, the participants were impressed by the presentation of facts and figures as well as balanced opinions throughout the duration of the camp. They were not fed with propaganda, as some participants admitted that they were afraid of experiencing.
The participants also expressed immense gratitude for the hospitality and care characteristic of Palestinians that they had experienced. They expressed that they felt extremely welcomed, supported and well taken care of by everyone they met throughout the duration of the summer camp. They hoped that in any way possible, they could have impacted the community the way the community in Aida had impacted them.
A participant reflected on the volunteer work that the team did, cleaning the roof and gardens of Lajee. “It was nice to get a chance to do a little volunteer work and make a small contribution to the really positive and successful youth and community work done at the Lajee Centre.”
All the participants left feeling hopeful to return to Palestine and to Aida again, to visit the friends they have met here through Lajee. They also left feeling a strong sense of purpose, to contribute to the Palestinian struggle by sharing their experiences with others in the international community.
They entire team of participants would like to thank everyone whom they have met during their experience in the summer camp especially Mohammad Alazza for planning and coordinating the camp, Salah, and Zayd who coordinated the activites during the summer camp as well as took care of the participants daily, Shifa and Samer who cooked the daily meals, Nidal and Amahl for the enlightening lessons, and the rest of the Lajee team for an amazing experience.
Earlier this week, around 250 residents in Aida recieved free eye tests and glasses courtesy of Global Vision 2020 and MCC.
Men, women and children above the age of 12 were eligible for the tests. It was a great iniitative that benefitted the community, especially the elderly who have issues seeing things at a distance and have challenges while reading.
The free eye tests gave residents of Aida the opportunity to identify any issues they had with seeing and therefore also the opportunity to start addressing the issue. It also aided families that otherwise would not have been able to afford eye glasses. For instance, there was a mother who discovered that all three of her daughters needed eye glasses.
The initiative to provide free glasses was really useful in this case. At the end of it all, approximately 300 eyeglasses were given out to the community.
We would like to thank MCC and Global Vision 2020 for coming to Aida with this initiative and we look forward to many more such collaborations in the future.
Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp has completed the second Yasser Arafat Summer camp, which kicked off on the 10th of July and went on for two weeks. The camp included 100 children aged 6 - 14 years, from Aida camp and surrounding towns, including Doha, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
The camp was held in partnership with the Yasser Arafat Foundation and aimed at spreading the cultural heritage of Palestine and the life and journey of late President Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar) through different cultural activities including awareness lectures, education, contests and games.
The children were divided into four age groups based on their interests. They took part in different activities including arts, sports along with health and environment education.
The art activities included handicrafts, painting, theatre and drama, as well as storytelling classes. Children also took music classes, including playing instruments, singing and Dabka traditional dance.
A group of children from the music and dance group held a performance at the Elder's Club in Beit Sahour, where they played music and danced traditional Dabka along with it.
At the club, an old man who had played the Oud for 50 years played music along with the children. The elders could feel the spirit of joy that the children brought to their hearts.
The camp also organised sports activities such as football games, swimming, hiking trips, in addition to cultural trips, including one to the Yasser Arafat Museum.
As for the health and environment education, the children volunteered in environmental health activities in the camp. They also received a lecture about ways to measure diabetes and hypertension by the Community Health Workers at Lajee Center.
After that, the children were able to measure diabetes and hypertension for the other children in the summer camp. The children also took classes in wood recycling and environmental sustainability.
Nagham As'ad, 13, said, “we learned many things, first aid, hypertension and diabetes, recycling, and we volunteered to clean the streets of the camp, control weeds and unwanted plants.”
Naghm added that the camp helped and encouraged her to learn more about children’s rights, which are constantly violated by the Israeli occupation.
In addition, she said that this camp enabled her to learn more about healthcare which she was passionate about. “In the future, I want to become a paramedic or Artificial limbs specialist, and my message for the camp is to keep going and to always encourage children to do what they love and the right things.”
Abdullah Bara'a, 12 years old, said “we had fun and met new people. I loved the activities and classes. Each day was better than the other and I enjoyed every second of it.”
In addition, Sara Ghabash, 9 years old, said that she learned more about Palestine, including the Palestinian Nakba, Naksa, and the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.
“I really liked the football and gymnastics activities, but my favorites were the singing and Dabka classes. I want to be in the next summer camp as well.”
It was heartening to know that the children thoroughly enjoyed the camp and look forward to the next one. The camp ended on a high with a graduation ceremony, which included an exhibition of the children's artworks produced during the camp, as well as a musical and theatre show, and a dabka performance.
Lajee Center on Monday, wrapped up the “Sounds of Freedom” 2018 tour in the United Kingdom, which included cultural art performances by the Music and Dance troupes in different parts of the UK.
The tour, which kicked off on the first of August for 20 days, included eight performances in different cities in the UK: London, Glasgow, Dumbarton, Belfast, Halifax, Nelson and Barley.
The performances represented the traditional Palestinian identity through the Dabka dance, as well as heritage and patriotic songs performed by the music group regarding the Palestinian struggle.
In between the two performances, the film “We Have A Dream to Live Safe” by Lajee’s Mohammad Alazza was screened. The film portrays life in Aida Refugee Camp from a child’s point of view, enlightening audience members on the lived realities of the children they were watching perform.
The biggest performance took place in London with over 350 people in the crowd. This included performances by a london-based dance troupe, Hawiyya and Lowkey, a British-Iraqi rapper and activist based in London, who raps about standing in solidarity with Palestine.
In London, the Lajee group was also interviewed by BBC radio and the British Muslim TV to talk about the tour and the center.
In addition, while in Belfast, the Lajee performers were graciously invited on a historical tour of cemetries of Irish prisoners who had passed away in pursuit of their struggle for independence, the seperation walls and grafitti tributes to the prisoners of war.
Irish-Palestinian relations have always been strong, as they share a common history of political struggle for independence under occupation. Both countries also greatly acknowledge the role of poliitcal prisinors in their struggle for independence.
Despite the success and the hard work to perfect the trip, three members of the group were not allowed to pass at the Jordanian airport as their supervisor had a security check, and was detained at the Israeli border for 10 hours before being sent back to the West Bank.
In addition, the group refused to perform in the European Football Cup since the platform had the Israeli flag. The organizers refused to remove the flag, and so the group withdrew from the field.
However, Lajee Center would like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of the tour, starting with the brilliant children of the music and dance groups, the supervisor and organizers, and everyone who attended the performances and supported Lajee and its work towards a free Palestine.