Summer Camps contribute to children's education in oPt
By Michael Bociurkiw
JERUSALEM, 22 November 2004 - It’s one of the hottest days of the summer in the hilly terrain of the northern West Bank. Eleven-year-old Amin Samara and 10-year-old Inas Basam almost pass each other on their way to two separate UNICEF-supported summer camps.
For Amin, two weeks of summer bliss – that included classes on environmental protection, drama, sports and painting - is coming to and end today. Despite a punishing sun, he lines up proudly at the closing ceremony with the other 100 boys at The Green Country Summer Camp at the Ras at Tira Boys School.
But for Inas, today marks the beginning of her two weeks at summer camp. The young Palestinian girl has spent the past few weeks at home – and like many other children in this isolated and barren section of the West Bank – she has assisted her parents in their green house and played with her friends.
“Before the camp started today I was really spending a lot of time just playing with my friends. I like to be here. I am looking forward to the sports, games – and just a chance to express myself,” says Inas, proudly displaying her summer camp t-shirt and cap.
Palestinian summer camps differ from ones found in western countries. Because of security concerns and lack of facilities organizers are compelled to hold them on school grounds.
Says Mohammed Shahwan, the headmaster of the Ras at Tira Boys School: “I would love to see the day when the children build their own tents and cook their own food. But we are so worried about the security situation. Here the parents are so scared to let their kids go. But it is good we have them. If not the kids just stay at home and help their fathers and mothers.”
Indeed, for Amin - and the 115 other boys and girls at the Pearl of Azzun Atma Summer Camp - to navigate her way to the summer camp today, she passed through a heavily-guarded checkpoint placed along the security barrier that’s snaking its way across the West Bank. Every day brings fresh fears of access problems for both students and camp facilitators. “Many children have problems coming here. Sometimes they close the checkpoint early and with no notice,” says school official Suhair Shalabi.
This year, UNICEF supported more than 100 summer camps throughout the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, bringing recreational and play activities to some 17,000 boys and girls. The camps were conceived as safe havens where children can escape the ongoing conflict and learn non-violent skills for participation in their communities. They typically last about two weeks, operate for a half day and are held in schools, community centers and parks.