Review

The 2004 camp took once again place in Egypt whereby the children had spent the first two weeks in Alexandria and another week in Cairo.

A premiere in 2004 was the participation of a Libyan group, in addition Sudan was represented as its own nation (in the past Sudanese children had participated in the programme as part of the Egyptian delegation). By virtue of the chaotic situation in Iraq, and the refusal of both Jordanian and Lebanese governments to issue travel documents for Iraqi refugee children who live in these countries, unfortunately, there was no Iraqi delegation represented at the 2004 camp. In 2005 the camp will again take place in Lebanon.

Being unique in the MONA region, the local partners in the region - with whom we co-operate very well - have great interest in this campaign: Caritas Egypt (represented since 1999 and 2001 and again the host in 2004), Caritas Jordan (represented in 2001 and 2002, and host of the 2002 camp) and Caritas Lebanon (Najla Tabet Chahda, director of the "Migrants Centre” of Caritas Lebanon, who will be our partner ganisation in 2005, sets up the contacts with the Palestinian partners in Lebanon and supports the organisational preparations on a regional level).

CI President Msgr. Fouad El-Hage and Claudette Habesch, President of Caritas MONA; as well as representatives of the local Caritas organisations (Magdy Ga-ras/Caritas Egypt, Jamal Hattar/Caritas Jordan, Father Elie Madi/Caritas Lebanon, have shown their interest and their support when visiting the camps in the past.

Great interest in this programme is also shown by several convents who regularly provide Sisters for preparation work as well as for active participation in the camps (as for example in the past the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent of Paul, the Sisters of Charity from Besançon, the Franciscans, the Emphremite Sisters, the Jesus Christ Community,…), which is of course a valuable help and a great enrichment.

The goals of the campaign remained always the same, and have even gained significance since the terrible incident of September 11, 2001:

  • to contribute to the understanding among peoples
  • to eliminate preconceived ideas
  • to strengthen mutual respect and tolerance
  • to arouse interest in different religions and cultures
  • to enable socially deprived children (orphans, refugee children, handi-capped,…) to benefit from vacations free of worries

It may be worth mentioning that there is another similar programme with equal goal on a national basis, namely in Lebanon. The "Migrants Centre” of Caritas Lebanon will be organising also this year a summer camp for Lebanese children and refugee children from Palestine and Iraq living in Lebanon, in co-operation with the convent of the Sisters of Charity - and with the financial support of Caritas Salzburg.

By virtue of the uniqueness and variety of the international Caritas summer camp (participants of different religions and with different social backgrounds, some of them being problematic, street kids, …) it has proven that a special training before the start of the camp for the group leaders as well as for other counsellors is very important and helpful - this was done through "Tolerance training for camp counsellors”.  The training was performed in 2002  by ICMC ("International Catholic Migration Commission”) together with the "Migrants Centre” of Caritas Lebanon, financed by CRS. In addition, almost all group leaders have participated in special courses (CE-MEAL, YMCA, …). Another advantage is that the team of counsellors has remained the same to a large extent, so that the counsellors from the different countries know each others very well and have gained large experience.

Though, this campaign has naturally always been a peace project in the past, this emphasis shall become more clearer and shall already be evident by the name. For this reason the camp shall run under the designation "International Caritas Peace Camp”, and this focus is intended to be represented outward. This implicates a the-matically more intensive consideration of the peace topic during the camp. For this purpose we could win a speaker of the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution from Burg Schlaining, who will be joining the camp for one week and work with the children on that topic. The Lebanese core team of the camp will in addition attend a two day’s seminar on this subject, organised by Caritas Lebanon, immedi-ately before the beginning of the camp.

Children's Feedback

Racha, 13, Palestine

"We came to the camp in Egypt with Caritas; this was the first time I take the plane.

We made the acquaintance of children of several countries, we became friends and I love them like my brothers and sisters, I feel the same for the responsible who treated us nicely and allowed us to meet other children.

I’ll never forget the day we went swimming at the Yacht club in Alexandria, I enjoyed the beautiful and clean water. It was a great joy to visit the pyramids and to go on a boat on the Nile. I contemplated the beauty of the nature.

I made the acquaintance of children from Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Syria.

This camp taught me the respect of others, discipline and helping the others. It was like my house and I lived there with my friends. I hope to come back there once again because I liked this camp and I would like to live there with new friends.

I thank the German Ambassador and his friends who offered us drink and food and also gifts; we enjoyed their company and they were very kind to us. I’ll never forget that day.

I was delighted to attend the national evenings where I’ve learned about the traditions of all the countries, and the activities in which we participated each day.

I thank Mary Ghiya, Ibtissam and Stefan because they granted all our demands as fast as they could."

Amira, 14, Egypt

"It was the first time that I participate in a summer camp. During this summer camp we visited many touristy sites: the pyramids, the sphinx and others. We were from different nationalities, which made us really stand together and created friendship between us.

In Alexandria, we visited many places with the Austrian ambassador. In Cairo, the German ambassador joined us during our sightseeing of the Nile. During the national evenings each group presented their national hymn, a traditional meal and a dance.

Participating in this camp made me acquire plenty of things on the personal level, of which: charity, solidarity and peace. During each party evening time the responsible used to choose the "star” of the day. I was once chosen and I received a gift from the responsible.

I enjoyed this summer camp and I thank Stefan and all the responsible that took care of us."

Jessica, 12, Lebanon

"Since I was a child I participated to several summer camps, but this one was unique. It made me experience a new world, outside the borders of my country Lebanon, in Egypt.

I expected the participants to be Lebanese, but actually this camp brought together children of different nationalities: Egyptian, Syrian, Sudanese, Lebanese, Palestinian and Libyan. This diversity was source of richness; it allowed me to get to know different persons and I hope a durable friendship.

During this camp I discovered Egypt, land of the pharaohs, one of the most ancient civilizations of the world and we visited the pyramids. There we followed a daily schedule to organize our stay at the convent. It was good, although I would have liked them to reduce the rest time after lunch.

During our outings, we visited various important places like the fort of Salah El Dine El Ayoubi, the museum of Cairo, the museum of Alexandria and the river Nile. We went also to the beach and enjoyed the sun and the water.

But of course not everything was beautiful, because the differences in opinions and ways of thinking were often source of quarrels between us. I had a fight with Sudanese children, but the responsible were always there understanding and available, ready to solve any problem.

In the end I’ve learned from this camp that in the future I will get to meet persons different from me, but this difference shouldn’t engender disputes. I should accept and respect people who are different in their way of living and thinking, whether they are white or black because we are all human beings and children of God.

I would like to thank the responsible of this camp, Mr. Stefan Maier, who made this experience of a new and rich adventure possible."

Friziyana, 13, Syria

"This was my first time out of my country and taking the plane, it was a great sensation. Once arrived at the camp, I was sad because I didn’t know anyone; but after one or two days I made the acquaintance of friends from Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, Palestine and Egypt.

I made the acquaintance of Jessica from Lebanon, Juliana from Jordan, Samuel from Sudan, Racha from Palestine, Mouzaher from Libya and Mira from Egypt. In Alexandria we learned songs and games; we went to the library of Alexandria and to the beach.

I enjoyed the meals, and I thank those who contributed in cooking them. The national evening of Syria and Lebanon was the first to  take place and in the beginning I was very frightened. We attended all the national evenings, they were very beautiful.

We visited Cairo the day of my birthday, and everybody celebrated it. I was very happy. One day we visited the pyramids, and I was taken in photo beside them. Then we took the boat, this was a first for me and it was a nice day.

We visited also the museum, the circus and the fort. All visits were nice and I want to thank those who worked to make this camp possible and successful.

I would like to thank the nuns, the responsible and the volunteers who helped us enjoy ourselves with our friends. My thanks go also to Mr. Stefan and Miss Ibtissam and to all those who contributed in inviting us, like the German ambassador and the Austrian ambassador in Egypt who invited us to the restaurant and all places that received us.

I thank God for everything and I hope to participate in another camp."

Mouzaher, 11, Libya

"We arrived to Alexandria and we were warmly welcomed in an unexpected way. The next day, we went to the beach and had a lot of fun. I made the acquaintance of other persons of different nationalities and learned to make handicrafts.

We sang and had national evenings for every country; I came to know the popular dances and the history of countries participating in the camp. We visited the fort of Quaitbay, the national museum, the library of Alexandria, the three pyramids and the Sphinx.

We were invited by the German Ambassador to a tour in the boat on the Nile River. We went to the beach in Alexandria, to Mc Donald’s and Radi Village where the Austrian Ambassador invited us to lunch together, I liked the lunch.

I thank the responsible, and the nurses who took care of us. I thank Miss Ibtissam and Mr. Stefan Maier.
God bless you for the care you have given for children."

Faris, 11, Jordan

"I never participated to camps outside my country. It was my dream. Sister Hanné told me about a 21 days camp in Egypt, for children of different nationalities. I was overjoyed and I dreamt many nights of this journey.

We started going to the sister’s house once a week to get ready for the camp. The D-day has finally arrived: Thursday, 04/07/2004. We stayed overnight at the sisters and took off the next day.
I realized my dream of taking a plane, it was a great sensation. We arrived at the airport in Cairo and members of Caritas welcomed us warmly. I felt very important.

I was very happy after the reunion with different groups from Lebanon and Syria and we moved to the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Abbasiya. We took our breakfast with a Sudanese group, and it was the first time I meet children of this nationality.

Afterwards we left for Alexandria, the journey was long and tiring but the welcome was warm and we started getting to know each others, and I was happy because I was looking forward for this moment.

The fifth day, I was elected star of the day and I received a gift with a great joy. We went to many places like the seaside, the library, the citadel Quaitbay, Radi Village…..

Two weeks after our arrival, we had our national evening, and then we left to go to a very beautiful place: the capital Cairo where we visited the pyramids. The German Ambassador invited us to dinner on a boat on the Nile, and I enjoyed seeing the dervish. We went to the museum, and had lunch at Mc Donald’s. I was very lucky and I hope that all children will have the chance of participating in such a summer camp.

Thanks for the organizers of this camp, especially Stefan. I hope to participate another time."

Abuk, 10, Sudan

"I’ve already participated to several summer camps, but I was satisfied and happy most in this one, because of the kindness of the responsible and the organization.During this camp, we participated to various activities: visit to the pyramids, dinner in a restaurant, tour in a boat, visit to the museum in Alexandria, and the most important, the opportunity I had to make the acquaintance of children of different nationalities.

I learned to me more disciplined, to listen and execute instructions of the responsible, help the others, to keep the place tidy, clean and well organized.

I was elected "star of the day” once, and I received a gift from the responsible. We learned a lot of songs and new dances; and I was beaming when I presented a traditional dance during the Sudanese evening.

I thank Stefan because he taught me discipline, and helping others without being asked. I would like to participate next year to another summer camp because I found kindness, love and joy.

Thanks

N.B.: This letter was written by another child but under the dictation of Abuk because she doesn’t know how to write in Arabic."

Team Members' Feedback

"Does the sea also have a tiled floor?"

Experiences from the International Caritas Camp for Children in Egypt (July 2004)

Janique Blattmann (25), Swiss, studied Catholic Theology in Austria and Paris. Because of her interest in Christian-Muslim Dialogue, she did a Bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Studies in Cairo. Beginning from October 2004, she will work for Caritas Egypt in the day care center for street children at the Pyramids in Giza.

When nine-year-old Christine from Cairo's slum area Haggana arrived at the camp, ten-year-old Marianna from a Lebanese orphanage helped her to pack out her clothes. Shocked she screams: "But don’t you have any underwear?" Christine only carried along two slips from her older brother, unwashed and damp. I try to mediate: "Hush, don’t say anything. She doesn’t have anything else." When it came to mark their clothes with their names, some of the Egyptians refused: They had borrowed the clothes from their neighbors. I was very glad that we were able to provide the poorest children with new clothes, a teeth brush, soap and a comb. Some of them knew neither toilet nor shower. In their house, which is often made up of a single room in which up to eighth people are living, they only have a tap.

POVERTY NOW HAS FACES AND NAMES FOR ME

Our first excursion to a swimming pool was a great experience. Many of the kids saw a swimming pool for the first time in their lives - and I hope it wasn't the last one. When we finally took a glance at the "real" sea, they asked astonished: "Does the sea also have a tiled floor?"

The children from Libya, a country which participated for the first time this year, represent a whole range of skin colors. Najwa, the darkest one of them, was considered by the Sudanese to be part of their group: "She's actually a Sudanese, she belongs to us, she just doesn't wanna admit it!" These children have no idea that there are black people all over Africa.

POVERTY MEANS A LIMITED RANGE OF EXPERIENCE

The differences in standard of living and education level are huge among the children participating in the camp. The criteria for poverty differ widely even inside the Arab World. Ten-year-old Egyptian or Sudanese from the slum cannot properly write their name. The headmaster of their school prefers to send his own children to Caritas literacy classes rather than sending them to his own school! Lebanese of the same age are not only fluent in Arabic but also in French, and they can even make themselves understood in English. The Sisters of Charity provide them with an excellent education.

POVERTY ENTAILS A LACK OF EDUCATION

Najwa, a Muslim girl from Libya, has perhaps never met a Christian in her life. With amazement she admires the headscarf of her Coptic-Orthodox friend Nadia: "Who are the ones on the picture here?" - "Well, this is the Virgin Mary with Jesus - and the old guy with the donkey is just one of these saints." The Holy Family on her flight to Egypt, wandering along the Nile in front of the Pyramids. Her parents haven't given the girl many clothes to take along, but of course the headscarf for Sunday Mass had to be part of it.

Few days later I find Najwa clothed in a long black dress, her braids hidden under a headscarf, bowing down on her bathing towel in prayer.
It was equally moving to see the Sudanese kneeling on their beds and folding their hands in prayer before they went to sleep. The only possibility to get them out of their beds on Sunday morning was to promise them that the Mass would certainly be Catholic. Then they got up with enthusiasm.

POVERTY AND A LIVING FAITH

In a camp with children from difficult social backgrounds and different Arabic cultures, I would have expected much more eruptions of violence and improper behavior. Of course, there were often fights, but imagine 95 European or American kids in 4 dorms…

One of my most formative experiences was the resolving of a conflict between eleven-year-old Hanaa, who is physically and psychologically weak, and her Egyptian colleagues. Without a bad intention the girls had made a remark on her health, which caused a serious cough attack and an incessant stream of tears. I gathered the girls to discuss the issue. I let them analyze the situation on their own: "What do you think went wrong? And how do you want to behave with Hanaa in the future?" - "We talk to her and tell her that we're sorry. We try to reconcile with her. The best is not to talk about her health problems any more." I was surprised at the potentials that these almost illiterate girls have for non-violent resolving of conflicts.

More than once the skills and experience of life of our two street children from Alexandria were useful. For example when it came to open a door of which the key was lost, or to follow a Sudanese runaway over the gate of the monastery to get hold of him and bring him back.

POVERTY, BUT UNEXPECTED ABILITIES

Eleven-year-old Vera from Jordan has probably never seen an African before. At home she sleeps in the same bed with her parents and siblings. In the camp she was to sleep between two Sudanese girls. The first night she broke out in tears: "I can't sleep here, I fear them!" Nine-year-old Aywin answered: "But why do you fear me?" Only a few days later a warm hug was part of the ritual before they went to bed.

On the day of departure Syrian and Sudanese, Libyan and Palestinian walked hand in hand to the bus, tears running down their cheeks. Even me, I couldn't help crying when we arrived at Haggana, parents and brothers and sisters running to meet the singing and cheering kids. In their neighborhood Egyptian and Sudanese, Christians and Muslims live side by side. They don't share only poverty.

TRUE WEALTH IS WHEN DIFFERENCES MEET