During our stay in Jerusalem, we spent a couple days working in one of the three biggest refugee camps in Bethlehem, Aida Camp. According to a report issued in February 2012 by the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Aida Camp covers an area of 0.71 square kilometers and houses a population of 5,300 refugees.
There is something of a shadow that hangs over a place like this; the kids who grow up here know more of the world and it’s problems than many adults in other places. When we arrived at the UN school where the summer camp we would be conducting workshops at was held, I felt overwhelmed. We entered the courtyard where some one hundred and forty kids where gathering, waiting for the day’s activities to commence. Finally we overcame the chaos and figured out what was going on. We began our day with the youngest group of kids.
The workshop was fun and the kids were very responsive to the sounds they heard and the activities we did with them. But my sense of accomplishment quickly vanished as we were ushered into the next room. My heart sank a little as I found myself in the middle of a circle of teens. They were seated in a circle at desks and on benches, hooting and hollering and staring. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable. We did our best to quiet them down, and tried to proceed with our workshop. We played for them and tried to talk with them, but it was very difficult to get anything across in the noise and chaos of it all.
When we returned home that night, our trio was quite discouraged. We had committed to returning to the camp the next day, but we began to question whether or not it was worth the discomfort, and whether we would really be able to do any good anyways. After some deliberation, we decided to put our hesitations and fears aside, and to try again. If we could do any good at all, then it would be worth it.
The next morning we set out again, with fresh determination. Upon our arrival, we were ushered into yet another room, where a big group of youngsters was gathered in a circle.
The workshop turned out to be an exciting experience, both for me and for the kids. It is a wonderful thing to watch firsthand as a young boy discovers that he can improvise rhythms on his own, or to see a little girl’s face light up with pleasure as plays the role of conductor and dictates the sounds she wants to hear. When we played a game of dance-when-you-hear-music-and-freeze-when-the-music-stops, the kids unintentionally responded to the speed of the music they heard, dancing slowly when the music was slow, and jumping around in frenzied excitement when the music was fast.
I watched as they took turns playing our instruments, their giggles and giddy smiles casting away the shadows of a hard life and and rough existence. What mattered was the present moment not the past trials, the joy of discovery not the struggle. Each giggle, each giddy smile, was a small gleam of hope.
I left the Aida Camp that final day with the knowledge that a beautiful thing can happen when I put aside my own doubt. I am grateful to have been given the chance to meet the youngsters of the Aida Camp, and I will not forget the light in their eyes. There is hope, and we must not give up seeking it.