9th International Peace Camp in Lebanon

Review

The meanwhile 9th international Caritas Peace Camp for unprivileged children from the entire Middle East was held in Bikfaya in the Lebanese mountains from July 16 to August 7. This singular peace and reconciliation project has been conducted by Caritas Salzburg almost each year since 1999, this year in close collaboration with the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre.

Despite facing one or the other obstacle in previous years this camp has become a tradition and is organised by Caritas Salzburg in collaboration with local partners in a different host country of the Middle East each year since 1999. Due to the war in Iraq in 2003 and the menacing political situation in Lebanon in summer 2007 the camps had to be cancelled in both years. This year, however, fortunately nothing stood in the way and the 97 children from 8 different countries of the region were all arriving at the Lazarist  St. Joseph Technical School in Bhersaf/Lebanon on July 16,  excited to spend the next three weeks together.

While some groups were arriving from their respective home countries (Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen) the Palestinians, Iraqis and Sudanese were children of refugee families who live in Lebanon.

For many children the first journey of their lives

All of the children participating aged between 10 ad 15 years were extremely vulnerable and usually would hardly ever get the chance to travel outside their country or participate in such a programme.

The Lebanese participants for example were coming from orphanages supported by Caritas Salzburg, the Jordanian children came from three different SOS children villages and the Egyptians live in a slum near Cairo where they regularly visit the Caritas youth club. The Yemeni were children of leprosy patients who all for the first time left the leprosy village near Taiz. Many of the children had experienced war, flight and displacement as for example the Iraqi and Sudanese children, while the Palestinian children were already born in refugee camps in Lebanon.

30 volunteers took care of the children during the camp (among them Sisters of four congregations) from 12 different nations - all in all a group of almost 130 people of 14 different religious denominations. 2/3 of the participating children were females in order to counteract the common preference of males in the Middle East.

Manifold activities during the camp

Various activities as handcrafts, music and sports games and contests were organised at St. Joseph Technical School in Bhersaf where the children were accommodated. The best sports performances were even awarded  with medals and cups at the end of the camp. Since peace education is one main purpose of the project, there were also group works and workshops on subjects as tolerance, respect and friendship. Some of the workshops were conducted by a professional trainer of the Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre, this year’s partner of Caritas Salzburg.

Since many participants came from abroad and may never again have the chance to visit Lebanon, various trips were organised to discover the host country. Thanks to the support of the Lebanese tourism minister, Elie Marouni, who even personally invited the children for lunch at a restaurant in his home town Zahlé in the Bekaa plane, all tourist sights were free for the whole group. Thus the kids had the chance to visit the impressive Roman ruins of Baalbek, the cedars in North Libanon, the crusader’s fortress in Byblos and the Druse palace in Beit Eddine. More highlights were the soap museum and - to the great joy of the children - an invitation to a fun park.

Since the Jordanian participants were children from SOS children villages, the SOS children village of Bhersaf invited us all and each of the ten camp groups could join a SOS family house for the day.

Dr. Eva Maria Ziegler, Austrian ambassador to Lebanon, facilitated two visits to Aqua Park and personally visited the children at the camp site; the Yemeni ambassador to Lebanon also was paying a visit to the Yemeni delegation, which was very much appreciated by the children.

The preparation and organisation of national evenings during the camp, where the children present their culture with dances and songs in national costumes to their new friends, is another important element. The best performances  were presented to a bigger audience by the end of the camp at an impressive international evening.

The objectives of the camps were achieved

The tears when saying good-bye gave evidence of how the aims of the project were achieved, namely to overcome prejudices and to promote tolerance. The programme is set to cultivate interest in other countries, cultures, traditions and religions and to contribute to international understanding  through boarder-crossing friendships. Last not least the children can engage in healthy childhood activities and enjoy careless holidays for at least once in their lives.

The 2009 Peace Camp was co-funded by Caritas Salzburg and Caritas organisations of Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Luxemburg and USA. The next Peace Camp is scheduled to be conducted in Alexandria/Egypt in summer 2010.

Children's Feedback

Ghadeer, 13 Jordan

"Love and fidelity have ruled within this camp where I met several friends and got to know new tourist sites in Lebanon. This camp called Peace camp had a real friendly ambiance where we all lived together regardless of race, nationality, religion or other.

Lebanon is the country that has received children from different countries where peace is not prevailing. The camp aimed at building up peace and security among children.  We learned new information during our visits to tourist places such as the Cedars, Baalbek, Byblos, Beit Eddine, the soap factory in Saida, the national museum and the Martyrs Square in Beirut. The other entertaining places were Dream Park, the zoo, the ride on a boat which was a first time experience for some children and the visit to the SOS children’s village where we felt the love and tenderness of a mother towards her children like one big family.  We played together and we were very happy. Once I’m back to Jordan, I will tell my brothers and sisters at SOS what I have lived with these children.

This camp offered children lots of things they never knew before. We were happy to take part in many games and to do handicrafts. We thank Mr. Stefan who did all this so we can spend a good time and live in peace.  We also thank all other persons in charge for the success of this camp which deserves to be called a peace camp indeed. What I liked the most was: cooperation, love, participation, the "star of the day” as well as the other prices granted to children.

Thank you!"

Maki, 12, Syria

"We came to this Peace Camp to meet other friends coming from different countries with several nationalities.  We took part to learn about Love and Peace.

Already at the beginning we were very enthusiastic about having new friends but when we were divided in several groups, we really felt like brothers and sisters.  We were happy, tolerant and peaceful towards each other; there was no difference between Christians or Muslims.

What I liked the most during the camp was the games we played together, the outings to the beach, the restaurants, the monuments, the cedars, the boat tour and the visit of the museum. I appreciated everything. Nevertheless, what I disliked was missing my parents.

I learned lots of things during this camp; I would like to thank Mr. Stefan Maier as well as the other assistants who allowed us to learn more about love, peace and joy and to be part of a big family. There was no discrimination as to color, religion or nationality.  I would like to thank as well the sisters for treating us in equality."

Eliane, 13, Palestine

"I am writing this letter feeling a great desire to stay with you.  I hope I will be able to take part again in another Peace Camp.
We played, laughed and had fun together.  Moreover, we had many outings to tourist sites.  We also learned the Palestinian Hymn with many Dabkeh dances.  I want to thank Ms. Sirine for accompanying us all the time and helping us to solve every problem rising in the team.
I am writing this letter and my eyes are filled with tears because this camp came to an end and my friends will be away and are getting ready to go back to their countries.
I would like to thank every person who contributed to the success of this camp in order to bring a smile to every sad child.  Every time I think that I’ll be leaving soon, I become very sad.

Thank you enormously for your care and attention."

Alaa, 13, Iraq

"My name is Alaa and I come from Iraq.  I have been living in Lebanon for the last two years and took part in a peace camp; I hope the world will live in peace.  I liked this period of time because I learned new things that I didn’t know before and I took part in many activities.  We made lots of outings which allowed me to get to know the beautiful regions of Lebanon (I would like to thank all who brought us this joy particularly the Minister of tourism and the Ambassadors).  I liked this camp and I hope I will take part in it once more next year.  I would like to thank Mr. Stefan who gave the chance to every child in this camp to be happy.   I also would like to thank all persons in charge.

My deepest regards!"

Team Members' Feedback

Haneen, Jordan

During summer SOS Children's Village has participated in the Caritas Peace camp 2009 in Lebanon in the period 16th July until the 7th of August to represent Jordan and SOS. In this camp (8) countries participated (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen). There were around 95 children's; nine of them were SOS Children.

Caritas Peace Camp gathered children's from different nationalities and religions. The main goal of the camp was to give a chance for those abandoned, disadvantaged and orphan children's to have a better life and to spend a nice vacation during the 3 weeks of the camp. The participation of the SOS children gave them an idea about others life and how miserable circumstances these children's are living. This experience made them glad and grateful for their own life because they are living in better conditions.
Before coming to Lebanon the children's were very excited and happy because they are joining a camp. One of the children's prepared his travel bag before 2 weeks and the other could not sleep because he did not believe that he is going to participate in the camp.

The travel day has come and everybody was interested and excited to reach the camp. After 9 hours of traveling we arrived to the convent, there were many children's sitting in circle and waiting for the Jordanian group. Everybody came to welcome us and they helped us to go to our rooms.
At the beginning of the camp we were separated into (10) groups, each group consist children's of different nationalities, colors and religions. I took a group of (10-12) years children, they were the best!!! The aim of this was to let the children communicate with each other in order to integrate easily. The first two days were difficult to some of the children's because they faced problems in integration and with their new groups. This problem was solved very quickly as the activities started.

There were many activities during the camp: indoor and outdoor activities. We visited many important places in Lebanon such as: Saida, Baalbek, Cedar Land, The National museum of Beirut, Tripoli, Downtown of Beirut, and many other place. Also we visited the zoo, had a tour in the boat twice, and going to the Rio Lento twice to swim.

The Daily schedule of the camp was:

  • Sport in the morning
  • Breakfast
  • Distributing charges for the groups ( each group has a specific charge daily, this helped the children's to have the team spirit, cooperation  and to love each other)
  • Specific topic in order to discuss it with the children's such as: children's rights and duties, the world map, hygiene and its effect on health, some important skills like: love, cooperation, life skills….
  • Lunch
  • Getting rest and taking a nap
  • Snack
  • Sport and different games
  • Dinner
  • Shower
  • Every night there was a schedule to entertain the children's, playing and dancing, the star of the day….
  • Bed time for the children's
  • Meeting with the team leader and staff in order to evaluate the day and to prepare for the next day

In the last ten days, each country has a day to celebrate and represent their country in front of all the participants. When our turn came to represent Jordan the children's were well prepared and excited to show other what is Jordan. In lunch time we served a known dish in Jordan called "magloobeh", everyone tried it and I think they liked it. Through the celebration the children's had some knowledge about traditions and heritage for different countries. This helped the children's to have a closer relationship with each other.

The camp arranged a visit to the SOS Children's village- Bahr Saf in Beirut. The Jordanian children's were very excited to visit this village because they are from SOS Children's villages. The children's were very interested to see how those children's live, especially because they have the same circumstances. This activity was very impressive and left a memory that would last forever for our children's.

In the last day of the camp an international day was held in the convent. All the countries participated in this event in order to represent their country. Representatives of each country, ambassadors, SOS children's of Bahr Saf and people from the community attend this event. The Lebanese singer Miriam fares made a surprise for the children and came to see them while performance, at the end of the celebration she sang and took photos with them.

At the last night of the camp a farewell event was held and the best groups were rewarded. The best thing is that most of the Jordanian team was rewarded.

Finally, Caritas Peace camp gave us a good experiment that we are going to use it in our lives. We get benefit from every moment we spent in the camp. It shows us the important role that we should play in the life of these disadvantaged and abandoned children's.

One of the important things that I learnt from the camp is patience and how to deal with the children's. That experience taught me how to accept challenges and how to solve problems. The time I spent in caritas was very precious and I will not forget this experience. I owe to everyone participated in the camp because I got useful things from them.

Saleh Yasin Al Qubati, Head of Yemeni delegation

First of all I would like to praise all those who have contributed to organize this camp in Lebanon, such as donors, volunteers, coordinators and everyone thanks to whom the success has been achieved this year.

As I have noticed through all the events that took place during this camp, huge efforts and money have been invested.

Caritas Camp this year was able to reach the set objective, as it did every year, but this year available means were more advantageous such as the premises and unprecedented visits.

Regarding the impact upon the children, I would like to share my opinion following my own observations, especially concerning the Yemeni group the example of which can be applied to all the other children.

  1. The integration of those kids with other people in the camp (children, counselors, visitors…) was very fast which was really surprising given the environment those children came from and the lifestyle they were leading, I couldn't imagine they would so easily become mixed with the new environment, and people they saw for the first time and barely knew.
  2. The fact of accepting the others; regardless of their color, race, nationality and religion, in spite of the climate of violence they were used to.  I have witnessed that they built strong ties with their Christian and Sudanese companions since the very first days which was really exceptional compared to previous camps.
  3. Overcoming the barriers between girls and boys, building friendship and watching one over the other was amazing.
  4. Broadening the horizons of those children, changing their perception of life and getting them used to a new way of life they didn't know before and will hopefully stick to further on.

Following these observations, I can assert that the camp has reached all the objectives. I would like to stress on some important details related to this last summer Peace Camp such as the visits of some ambassadors and officials who came to see our children which made them feel important and gave them certain individual value.  One of those personalities was the ambassador of Yemen in Lebanon who met with the children and spoke to them which made them very happy and proud; contrary to prejudices they had that people avoided them because they came from an isolated area where many diseases are spread.

Finally, I would like to seize the opportunity to thank a lot all those who have contributed to this camp; namely Mr. Stefan Maier who has offered Yemeni children the chance to take part in it which will definitely improve their life and make them regain importance they have lost due to difficult circumstances they were victims of. I would also like to express my gratitude for having got the chance myself to learn the meaning of sacrifice and patience for magnificent and non-material purposes which is helping the others, sometimes at one's own expenses.

Thank you Stefan, thank you for everything you have so generously given.

I hope this camp will continue through years and embrace more and more children, in order to sow peace.

Saleh Yasin Al Qubati
Head of Yemeni Delegation at the International Caritas Peace Camp 2009