Musalaha’s Summer Camp from a child’s point of view:
What is Musalaha’s summer camp in Bethlehem all about? Is it about serving 85 children with 20 volunteers and 7 interns in 6 days? Is it having fun, playing games, making new friends, and enjoying summer? Sure. But what makes a difference in the lives of the participants that lasts more than a few days?
That’s Musalaha’s intention: Planting seeds of Reconciliation between the participating children – half of them Muslim, half of them Christian – and teaching them the golden rule “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Seeds of bearing “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22:23). These two themes were the topics we planned this year’s camp activities around – that was the well-prepared plan for the group of kids with diverse backgrounds, coming from different areas around Bethlehem.
But the reality on the first day is that kids cry because they don’t know anyone, they are suspicious of each other, and sometimes they even want to leave. The camp continues on and we receive different comments from parents. But, a couple of mother’s comments caught Musalaha’s camp leader, Ronza’s attention: Ronza met one mother in the supermarket, whose daughter was participating at the camp, explaining that she never wants to go to camps, she never continues after the first day, and she has difficulties in making new friends…but her daughter surprised her: she is excited to go to the camp every morning, and although the mother knows her daughter has difficulties in making new friends – she tells her every evening about her new friends.
Maybe it’s the theatre sketches relating to the kids’ daily life facing racism and conflict, maybe It’s the planting of trees that they can take home to care of and see it growing, or maybe it’s just the fact of having made new friends with kids from a different background that makes a difference later on in their lives. We don’t know.
Our intention with these messages was to plant seeds of Reconciliation and to help the kids leaving the camp inspired and changed. But what we really didn’t expect is that it happens even with our counselors. We had one 16 year-old girl who was the only Muslim counselor in the camp – all the others were Christian – but they all became such close friends, taking care of each other, that she shared at the end of the camp: “I felt loved, accepted, the message of the camp was not only for the children, it was also for me! I’ve learned a lot.” In fact, she was also last year the only Muslim counselor and we thought she would never come back, she would feel alone and not part of the community. But she came back. “Please put my name on the list for next year, and every year, I don’t want to miss being a part of this camp!” – This is a common theme not only amongst counselors, but also parents from different backgrounds continue to send their children to our summer camps, despite the fact that they are not Christian. In fact, what is unique about our summer camp in Bethlehem is that we are focusing on Reconciliation among Palestinian children – Muslim and Christian:
When kids play together – that’s the ultimate way children live out Reconciliation!
“I pray that the kids will also affect their friends, that they share what they’ve learned during the camps also outside the camp. I don’t want what happened in the camp to stay in the camp, I want it to go out, that’s my vision and prayer!” – Ronza, camp leader Bethlehem, 2019.
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