Children currently represent 65% of the overall population of Deheishe refugee camp. The educational process is deprived and incomplete (low level of education, more than 45 students in one classroom, not enough classrooms, insufficient teaching aids). Moreover, the parents cannot supply necessary needs for children. As a result, children are forced to work in order to compensate for the shortage of funds.
There is a severe lack of playgrounds or youth services to accommodate these thousands of children. The only available area for them are the streets, which are narrow and dangerous due to ongoing passing traffic. Thus, they are in a strong need for a place where they can reaffirm their childhood and participate in activities that stimulate their talents and creativity.
The war goes on around us and the children and youth of Karama are noticeably affected- if we get the chance to look beyond the jokes and smiling faces that they usually offer us. One person that has etched herself into everyone’s conscience, is the girl who had her entire family killed by an Israeli rocket while they were having a picnic on the beach in Gaza. Her terrified face and loud pleading to them to come back to her and to forgive her if she had done something wrong, is difficult to suppress from our conscience.
This year’s Summer Academy was dedicated to all the children who suffer the violence and subordination that are consequences of an occupation.
There has been a discussion whether or not we should proceed with the planned activities despite the tragic circumstances in Palestine and Lebanon, and we argued that it will somehow be a double punishment for the youth if the normal “treat” of the annual Summer Academy would be changed too much. We believe they will be strengthened by knowledge along with games and fun.
The Summer Academy has been planned and accomplished despite the small means Karama had for this event. We tried to make the most of the money and time and feel that we managed to give the youth both recreational time, as well as valuable learning experience.
The activities have mainly taken place outdoors and in various parks around Bethlehem and Deheishe. The structure of the Summer Academy followed a similar one to preivious years, with some minor changes. The youth started by dividing themselves into the two groups Media-Democracy and Social Knowledge. They were then given introductions to the topics. A part of the workshop time was spent playing Problem-Solving and Ice-Breaking games. This was to strengthen the feeling of belonging as well as recharging their batteries.
In the Media Democracy group some of the topics that have been dealt with was the History of Democracy and the various forms of it, Election Procedures, Human Rights, Freedom of Speech and media’s responsibility when for example reporting a conflict. The method of the workshop was alternated between lectures and smaller group work.
In addition there was an Environmental Cleaning Project that ran alongside the main workshops.
From June 29th until July 12th 48 youth in the age of 14 to 17 years and seven supervisors took part in Karama’s third Summer Academy in an outdoor area in Doha, near Bethlehem. Originally set for 10 days we extended the camp to 13 days at the participants’ own request.
Each day from around 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. the youth were joined regularly a workshop of their own choice (Art & Culture –, Environment & Health –, Children Rights – or Media – workshop). In that two hour period, each group dealt in a different way with the academy’s motto “Children’s Rights”. In our daily schedule we also allowed for further common activities like sports, music and games.
Sometimes all the participants or a single group visited other institutions and places as part of the workshop programmes and discovered the nearby environment. In general we had a colourful programme offering the participants a good balance between work and fun. A final celebration at Karama’s centre, where every group presented their results, rounded off our successful Summer Academy.
In June 2004 Karama arranged a camp for school children between the age of 9 and 17. During nine days Karama offered the children different activities – each day had a theme. One day was concentrating on sports activities, such as football, volleyball and running. Other days focused on a mental health support course by a trained psychologist, on drawing or on reading stories. The children and the leaders from Karama also tracked through the village of Artas to the Solomon’s pools for a picnic and some playing.
Another day the group went to the SOS children village’s orphanage in Bethlehem. The children from Deheishe then performed some voluntary work planting trees and flowers and, not at the least, made new acquaintances with the children at SOS. Karama also arranged a trip to the Dead Sea for a day. The original destination was Jericho, but plans were changed since the Israeli army refused to let the buses with the children into Jericho. Despite the difficulties of the trip the children were happy visiting the Dead Sea area, for some of the kids this was the first time they saw the sea.
All in all, about 100 children participated at the summer camp, along with ten leaders. The summer camp ended with an “open day” during which the children’s mothers joined workshops about child rearing. At the same time the children were discussing their relations to their mothers. Later during the day the women and children were brought together to discuss theses issues. Afterwards the children took the opportunity to show the women the dabke , the Palestinian traditional dance they had learnt as well as jars they had painted. The day ended by a performance of a theater group from Jerusalem and a big cake-party.
Karama children love to express themselves and make handicrafts. Our local and international volunteers run regular workshops in which children learn new skills and discover their creativity.
The children get to dive into the world of paper, glitter, gems and colour. They get a feeling of how to work with their hands. They learn how to work by themselves and with others and thus enhance their social skills.
Examples of creative workshops include:
The Karama kids love our theatre workshops. Led by our local and international volunteers, the children discover new possibilities to express themselves and how to create scenes and pictures. Their abstract and creative thinking are a key part of the lessons as well as their ability to improvise.
Frequently the plays are written by the children themselves, allowing them to handle and find solutions to their real-life problems as well as escape into fantasy worlds.
Physical activities are crucial for the childrens’ development, especially in a stressful environment like the Palestinian refugee camps. With limited space available though, playing outside can become a dangerous activities. Karama center offers two playgrounds, of which one recently was restorated in the summer of 2013. The largest back yard used to be of concrete, with low walls – leading sometimes to lost balls and a scrape on the knee. With the generous donation from abroad, Karama was able to update the center’s largest field, higher the walls and create a green grass field. This first grass field of Deheishe can now be used for a wide variety of games and offers a safe and welcoming space for all our visitors.
Karama strives to provide a better educational environment in Deheishe Camp. We run educational workshops and classes to develop the children’s skills and prepare them for a better future.
Karama educational projects stress English to establish and develop the pupils’ skills. Our international volunteers give English lessons several days a week. This encourages the children to improve their abilities with the volunteer’s assistance, and they have the chance to practice their skills with a native speaker. The courses cover vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading practices and are designed to learn the language in a playful and fun way. The courses run from basic level to advanced and are offered for women as well.
University students and international volunteers help younger students in maths and technology classes.
We also run large-scale educational projects in partnership with UNRWA and the local schools. In these projects, we organize remedial courses for the weakest students as well as psychosocial support to the families.
Every week, we organize our activities and workshops with the children around a central theme. Our arts and crafts workshops, as well as the educational activities, like the English lessons, are based on this theme. For example, in July 2011 our international volunteers organized a geography week. During this week, every volunteer gave a presentation about his/her country, a map of the world was drawn on our garden wall and the children painted flags from countries all over the world next to the worldmap. These theme weeks enable the children to discover new things and develop their knowledge, both by learning and by engaging in fun and creative activities.
Over the years Karama has been expanding its library facility, to offer a world of wonderful stories for the children. Both English and Arabic books are featured in the cosy room, and even some French.. From colorfull starters to study books about IT, they are all part of this great place! The children can come here on fixed hours to sit quietly and read, or take home books through our lending system. Especially for the library Karama has developed library cards, to make sure kids are encourage to take out books.. and bring them back!
There are also regular activities organized in this room that specifically focus on improve the childrens reading skills. International volunteers organize reading clubs, English games and writing classes. Our recent expansion in 2014 has been made possible with the help of two Canadian volunteers, for which we are very grateful!
Karama has its own youth government. Children hold annual elections to select their representatives who decide on the activities and the programme Karama is running. All internal conflicts are solved between the children with mock trials taking place regularly. We encourage self-reliance and responsibility and all our activities are supervised by one of the older Karama children. Finally, six out of seven board members are young people below 23.
We also run workshops on democracy, rights and leadership with the children. Here they engage with their own perspective and other people’s perspectives on life and get empowered to take decisions for themselves.
One of the worst effects of the occupation is that the Palestinian’s freedom of movement is restricted severely. Karama regularly organizes trips, whenever circumstances permits, to the greater surroundings of the camp in order to familiarize them with the country they live in as well as to meet their need for movement. Trips in the past included excursions to the swimming pools in Jericho, Artass, Solomon’s Pools and other places around the country.
Every year we also run summercamps for between 60 and 150 children. These summercamps are educational fun with games, day trips and entertainment. The children attend workshops about different topics of their choice. We also have themed days, so that the children learn something new without even noticing. On the day trips to sites in the area the children learn about their heritage and history, and we give lessons in environmental awareness.
Our summercamps are organized and run by our Palestinian volunteers – who often were participants of the summercamps just a few years ago.
Karama helps children to learn basic and advanced computer skills: