Summer Camp Volunteers
Over the five years from 2008 to 2013, forty-four generous young people have volunteered to help with the summer camps in the Holy Land. In July 2013, sixteen university students went to Palestine. Several of them were returning volunteers who had encouraged others to follow in their footsteps — a testimony to their commitment, dedication and faith. They spent July working in parish summer camps in Aboud, Beir Zeit, Jifna, Ramallah and at the Terra Sancta Centre in Beit Hanina. Previous volunteers had spent their summers in parishes in Madaba in Jordan and in Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Nablus in Palestine.
These summer camps are of immense importance: during the school holidays in Palestine, there is little to do throughout the long hot summer months. Families are not free to take holidays even if they could afford them, for the majority live in poverty, their lives are restricted by the Israeli occupation, and visa restrictions render travel virtually impossible. Well organised summer camps, offering a range of activities which are not normally available, provide welcome relief and opportunities for enjoyment for Christians and Muslims alike. Everyone in the community is involved, with older members volunteering as helpers and sometimes receiving a small salary. Above all, the camps keep the young people occupied. Those parishes fortunate to be able to organise camps have swimming, art, sports, day trips and traditional dancing organised to engage and excite their six to sixteen year olds. Opportunities to speak English with enthusiastic young volunteers have proved very popular. In a land where jobs are scarce, being able to speaky fluent English is a high priority.
Prior to their departure, all the volunteers received online and (in most cases) face to face training on teaching techniques and suitable resources. They also received advice about cultural differences, health and travel safety, and, at the beginning of their time in the Holy Land, they learned some Arabic whilst spending their first few days together in The Reef Hostel (right) in Jifna, a small Christian village in the West Bank.
The volunteers were then welcomed into their parish communities, which cherished them and provided the legendary Palestinian hospitality. The Dames and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre are particularly grateful for the kindness, generosity and care of the Parish Priests, who provided accommodation and look after these young people throughout their stay. Their families in England and Ireland were assured that the volunteers were in safe hands.
By various fund-raising activities before their departure, the volunteers have been able to take with them, over the years, the remarkable amount of over £15,000. The Cambridge Nazareth Trust provided a link to the Just Giving website, which was used by the volunteers for fund raising. The majority of volunteers also received grants towards their travel expenses from the Catenian Bursary Fund, for which they are very grateful. The volunteers were able to see directly that their hard earned funds were put to good use, from providing crash mats for more adventurous gymnastic activities to payments for the buses for day trips. Their activities also helped to publicise the need for educational opportunities for young people growing up in The Holy Land.
All of the recipients of Catenian Bursary Fund grants wrote reports about their experiences for the Fund, some extracts from which are reproduced here.
All the volunteers feel that they have gained more than they gave, and many continue to communicate with their Palestinian friends through social media networks. The very presence of these young people witnesses that the world has not forgotten the plight of those living in the land of Jesus. Eamonn, a 2011 volunteer in Beit Jala, expressed it in this way:
"I have acquired more insight into the everyday joys and struggles of the Palestinian Christians. It was also wonderful to meet Christians who proudly and unapologetically proclaimed their faith in the public arena. This is becoming increasingly difficult in the West, especially for young people. This and other specific experiences have strengthened my faith. It has also given me an appreciation of the universality of the Catholic church."
It is a reflection of the esteem in which our Order is held in the Holy Land that these arrangements have been made possible. I would like to thank Kathryn, Becky and Mickey, and the other intrepid volunteers, for their generosity of spirit. Fr Emil Salayta helped with the organisation of the 2010 volunteers. Thereafter, Fr Firas Aridah Parish Priest of Jifna, provided invaluable help, as did Fr Paul Maddison of Palestine Pilgrimage, ensuring that the challenging logistics of this unique project went smoothly.
As the wife of a Catenian, I am proud of the generous and unfailing support that the Catenian Bursary Fund has given to the endeavours of these young people. They brought a ray of sunshine to these beleaguered parish communities and gave them the most valuable of gifts: hope.
Margaret Waddingham DC*HS — November, 2013
This page is an edited and somewhat shortened version of Margaret Waddingham's original report. Larger versions of many of the images may be viewed by clicking on them.