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Youth UPF

European Youth Help with Art Projects in Beit Shemesh

Fifteen young Europeans arrived in Jerusalem on July 1 for an International Youth Leadership project. The program included four days in Bethlehem and 12 days helping at a summer camp in Beit Shemesh. The director of the project was Adriel Trombin from Luxemburg along with Natalie Nylen from Sweden and Chigozie Ahunanya from Malta. The project was supported by the Israeli branch of the Youth Federation for World Peace and guided by the Secretary General of UPF-Israel, Mr. Hod Ben Zvi. Local partners included Aiman from Palestine and Meir and Harley from the Beit Shemesh municipality.

The first day of the summer camp the participants were divided into different groups of art, sports and music. Natalie organized the art project for the older kids, who made lizards out of beads. The kids in the summer camp came from very poor families; some of the parents were addicted to drugs or alcohol and the kids begged on the streets for food. We were told beforehand that the kids came from unstable home situations, but didn’t quite realize the challenges we met them.

Contributions were mainly in the area of arts, especially making a big menorah out of blocks of clay and cement. The young Europeans faced many challenges in communicating not only with the children but also with the local staff. This was not only due to language barrier but also because cultural differences.

There was a lot to learn and reflect upon. The planning team met with the organizers in advance to work out details. However, regarding the art project, there wasn't a clear understanding of what the kids were capable of doing, and more advance dialog with the staff who work with these kids throughout the year would have been helpful

One of the most moving experiencing was the home stay with local families in Beit Shemesh. Lovely families took participants into their home for the weekend. Celebrating the Shabbat together was a new experience for most of the Europeans. The families fed the young people and their children played with them. When the Shabbat was over everyone met together on the basketball field. The mayor hosted a farewell dinner, giving each participant and each family a beautiful certificate of participation with their own photo in the center.

Although the focus was on service rather than dialogue and fact finding, some participants had profound insights into the situation in Israel and Palestine. One of the participants commented, “As I learned more about the situation of the Palestinian youth and the hard times they are going through, my heart really opened towards them and I noticed their hearts opening towards us to a greater extent. Reflecting on our experiences I suddenly felt such a deep love towards all of them and a great sadness in knowing how much hate and resentment is surrounding the situation. I felt the natural urge to dedicate a portion of the journey to pray for them. I realized that the true purpose of the project was more than restoring buildings and helping at a summer camp but to really gain a deeper understanding of the situation and help remind the people on both sides that there are people who care. After this trip I feel such a greater desire for peace and feel I want to do more to help in later life.”

At a reflection meeting at UPF peace center in Jerusalem, participants learned about the foundation laid through the Middle East Peace Initiative work over the years to develop a culture of peace.

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