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Building Bridges

The Camp–An Introduction Finally, a corner of time. Ten days ago I said “see you soon” to a group of young people from the Middle East. I still need to process most of this, need to write it down, but today I’ll pick up one piece of the puzzle and describe it for you.

Hope and courage. Answered prayers. What follows is an update I wrote for my Rotary people who came to help cook: The kids are in Friesland today; they’ve rented 9 sailboats and it looks like they’ll have one of the best sailing days all summer. They’ve been in NL for a week now and have done things like skiing, kayaking, snowboarding (at the Uithof), cycling through the dunes between the Hoek and Monster (the local cycle shop owner Kees gave us 40% discount), eating pancakes at the Jagershuis (where Jan-Willem cooked for them on his day off and also gave us a huge discount), getting a tour of the underground Fort, and playing volleyball and basketball on the beach.

The kids are between 14-18 in age. Twelve Israelis, five Palestinians living in Israel, and six are from the West Bank. The latter six were the ones who arrived 2 days late. They got their visas all right, and despite problems with Hamas that day, they made it through all the checkpoints and across the borders to Jordan. But once at the Amman airport, there were problems with their tickets. They spent the first night in the airport with Nadir, the leader (26) from the West Bank, and the second night in a hotel. He ended up having to bribe some officials to get the kids out. Anyway, they arrived safely, and that’s what counts. There are also 9 Dutch kids, mostly from Friesland and Diego (from Argentina). Only Diego and the Middle Eastern kids will return to the Hoek tomorrow. On Monday everyone goes home.

I have been cooking 3 meals a day together with my head chef Anastasia, and it has been a riot visiting the Sligro (like Costco) and leaving with 10 kg pasta, or figuring out how much pasta sauce we need for 60 portions, and filling my Mitsubishi to the bursting point. Early mornings, late nights, but all very much worth it.

For me, the high points of the camp have been the evening discussions. The leaders from the Middle East (2 Pal and 2 Isr), have been trained in getting the kids to open up and be honest about the conflict going on back home. We’ve had some very emotional and moving talks. Remember that these kids knew they were coming to a reconciliation camp, so they are already open to making friends with the enemy. And the participants are all Christians—so they have their faith in common, and the fact that in Israel and Palestine they are already outsiders because of being Messianic Jews or Arab Christians. Mainly though, they’re just like teens everywhere, loads of fun and full of energy and hope.

Just to give you an idea of how moving the stories are, here are a few: • The leader of the camp, Shadia–her parents were both orphaned during the war of ’48 and met and fell in love in the orphanage. Now Shadia and her brothers and sisters have all these uncles and aunts, who are actually the other orphans from that orphanage. • I see a tragic difference in the Israeli kids being able to make their dreams come true—most play the piano, can travel and are getting a diploma or degree. The Palestinian kids live in refugee camps (sometimes for as long as 4 generations), have had their education interrupted because their villages get cordoned off and they cannot travel, or because war breaks out in their areas. • In the evenings we sing songs in Hebrew, Arabic and English. I find it extremely moving to hear these sounds and watch their faces and listen to their voices.

In the days to come, I’ll try to give an overview of the camp: the highs and lows.

The children’s voices: “Our generation is the one that may make peace.”

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