8th International Peace Camp in Egypt

Review

This remarkable project for peace and reconciliation has been organised by Caritas Salzburg/Austria almost eachar since 1999, in 2008 in close collaboration with Caritas Egypt.

Since the last Peace Camp in summer 2006 was massively overshadowed by the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and the 2007 camp had to be cancelled due to the unsettled political situation in the entire region, the number of participating nationalities at the 2008 camp was slightly reduced compared to the past camps for security reasons (unfortunately the Lebanese children as well as the Palestinian refugee children from Lebanon could not join the camp due to the threat of another civil war in Lebanon), but after all the project fortunately could be successfully realised without any new political difficulties or obstacles.

Background of the participating children

Participants were 80 unprivileged children aged between 10 and 14 years from five different Arabic countries: Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. These children were chosen by long-time project partners of Caritas Salzburg in the respective countries according to strict social parameters: children from the slum Haggana near Cairo, street children from two shelters run by Caritas Egypt in Cairo and Alexandria, war refugees from South Sudan resp. Iraq living in Egypt, needy children from the Raqqa region in Northern Syria as well as children of leprosy patients from a leprosy centre in Taiz/Yemen.

The children were looked after by a team of 30 counsellors from 10 different nationalities, who were all volunteers: Sisters from four different congregations, a team of entertainers (among them for the first time a professional sports teacher from Lebanon). Besides, there were teachers, social workers and students as group leaders as well as for various other tasks during the camp.

2/3 of the participating children were girls in order to counteract the common preference of boys in the Middle East and over 40 % of the kids were Muslims, the others belonged to various Christian denominations such as Roman Catholic, Greek Catho-lic, Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Protes-tant or Evangelical.

Accommodation in a former palace of an Ottoman pasha

The children were accommodated at the beautiful Tito convent of the Sisters of Charity in the midst of a large and gorgeous park. This convent used to be the former palace of an Ottoman pasha whose widow had willed it to the order and it has been used for social projects according to her wish ever since.

Manifold interesting and diversified activities as handcrafts, sports activities and games, group works on different topics (i.e. children rights) but also workshops on topics as communication, reconciliation and non-violent conflict resolution with an Arabic speaking trainer (from CRS) were offered at Tito. From there also numerous trips were undertaken, as swimming in the sea, visiting a circus or the sights of Alexandria like Montazah Palace, the citadel of Qait-Bay (built upon the ruins of the ancient light-house of Alexandria and one of the wonders of the ancient world) or the national museum.

Dr. Thomas Nader, Austrian Ambassador to Egypt, invited the whole group to Aqua Park (he also joined the children personally to swim with them). A day trip to Cairo was a must, where the children visited the pyramids and were invited at a nearby restaurant for lunch by the French ambassador. Then they spent the whole afternoon playing at a fun park on the invitation of the German Embassy in Cairo.

For many of the children these were first-time and unique experiences; the Yemeni children for instance had never left the leprosy centre in their home town Taiz so far - now they had travelled on a plane or were eating in a restaurant for the first time in their lives.

All the activities during the camp were aiming to contribute to the achievement of the main project goals as:

  • Contribute to international understanding
  • Help to promote the elimination of prejudice
  • Strengthen mutual respect and tolerance
  • Spark interest in other religions and cultures
  • Facilitate careless holidays for disadvantaged children

The national evenings at the end of the camp also served this purpose as the children of the different nationalities could present to their new friends their respective home country with folkloristic performances in national costumes or with their typical dishes. The best pieces of the different national evenings were performed in front of audience (members of Caritas Egypt, friends and supporters of the Peace Camp) at the end of the camp.

This singular peace project could be realised thanks to the financial cooperation of numerous member organisations of the international Caritas network: Caritas Salzburg/Austria, Caritas Germany, Caritas Sweden, Caritas France, Caritas Luxemburg, Cordaid (= Caritas Holland) as well as CRS (Catholic Relief Services = Caritas USA).

Children's Feedback

Amat, 12, Yemen

"The 1st time I take a plane; I was overwhelmed by a feeling of happiness. I met many friends from different nationalities and I loved them.  We visited several places like the pyramids, the sea and it was for the 1st time in my life that I do all these things; I was very happy.  We visited the museum to see the pharaohs and how they used to mummify them. We were also at the swimming pool, in many restaurants where we danced and played. During the camp, we made handicrafts; a large number of games were organized. I also saw the national evenings prepared by the other participating countries.

What I liked the most in this camp was: friendship, rest, feeling secure, cooperation among participants.  I hope ill be able to take part one more time."

Aya, 11, Egypt

"This is the 1st time I take part in a camp with persons coming from different Arab countries. I participated thanks to Caritas Egypt who encouraged me to come to meet new people coming from different countries and to learn new things. I found the place where the camp was organized very nice and we had several good trips: Dream Park, the citadel, the pyramids, the sea, Carrefour, Mc Donald’s. I learned many new games: water games, ball games, sports and I learned about cooperation, love, peace and faith. I got to know many songs and dances as well as handicrafts. We went to the swimming pool, and we met other persons.  We all loved each other, Stefan loved all the kids. I really liked the games and I learned to be organized: the rooms were clean and we learned to keep our environment that way too. Everything was organized, including games. I also learned to draw, to color; I liked the circus and the library at the camp. I was very happy at this camp and I am sad it has finished."

Arabi, 12, Egypt

"This is the first time I take part in a Peace camp: I knew about it thanks to Caritas where I am taking my literacy courses since 4 years. I came to this camp to meet new friends and to learn new things. I was very impressed because we came from different countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Egypt. I saw the sea, the circus and we played a football game and had a score equivalent to the other team. We also ate at Carrefour and I was very happy because I learned new songs and games. We went later to Cairo to visit the pyramids and we ate at Mc Donald. I also liked that every country, including Egypt, has presented dances and songs; I learned about other cultures. I am happy that I took part in this camp and I hope that I will have the chance to take part once again.  Thank you for all."

Ayman, 12, Sudan

"I really liked this camp since participants were very nice. There were lots of trips, and I hope I will be able to take part again in such a camp because I learned many things. We saw the pyramids, played in Dream Park and swam in the sea and the swimming pool. I want to thank you for everything. I met very nice friends like Arshak from Syria and I really liked the outings. I think that the message that was meant to be transmitted to children through this camp was successfully delivered to them; my friends were really great."

Rania, 14, Sudan

"This is the first time I take part in a camp and I have the chance to come to Alexandria. I really appreciated it since it was very nice. I benefited from the beach, outings, pyramids and Dream Park. The organized trips were very entertaining and I met many new friends and persons in charge.

I felt a very important cooperation among participants. I learned several new things in this camp. I want to ensure the persons who will be taking part in the future that they will learn a lot and they will meet friends the same way I did thanks to this camp."

Eillin, 13, Syria

"I participated in the camp in order to have fun, meet friends from different countries, play and learn new things like songs and other stuff which will remain in my memory.

The good points in the camp: Learning about love, cooperation, good manners, acting like brothers and sisters, peace among friends as well as following the rules, participating and playing sports.

New things: Being on an airplane for the first time, Dream park, I loved going to the circus, eating at Mac Donald’s, swimming in a pool, playing new games and hearing about interesting subjects.

What I learned from this camp is: cooperation, fraternity, forgiveness and much more"