Last July HCEF completed its 1st annual Creative Art Summer Camp, this year, titled, Coloring Life with Creativity, in the Palestinian town of Birzeit, near Ramallah.

As we prepare for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s (HCEF) 10th International Conference this October, it’s good to reflect on just why HCEF’s programs are critical to the well-being of Arab Christian Communities in the Holy Land. Last July was a perfect example, as HCEF completed its 1st annual Creative Art Summer Camp, this year, titled, Coloring Life with Creativity, in the Palestinian town of Birzeit, near Ramallah.

HCEF’s staff in the Holy Land initiated the camp as a pilot project to provide children in various Palestinian communities the opportunity to develop their artistic creativity with this unique ecumenical coeducational summer camp. The camp was attended by 25 Arab Christian girls and boys from Birzeit between the ages of 9 and 11, and took place every Tuesday and Thursday throughout July from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. The camp encompassed both the Orthodox and Catholic parishes in Birzeit, and was administered by a team of ten volunteers aged 16-18, who also hailed from the two parishes.

HCEF workers and youth volunteers worked through the Birzeit parish priests to mobilize the community to participate in this fruitful effort. By forming local committees tasked with everything from outreach logistics to snack preparation, the summer camp was another HCEF success in strengthening bonds in Arab Christian communities across denomination, age and gender, despite the challenges of military occupation and economic hardship that so many Holy Land Arabs face. HCEF hopes to apply the successes of its 2008 summer camp to other Holy Land Christian communities.

Diligent artists at the 1st annual HCEF Creative Art Summer Camp in Birzeit

In fact, the very location of the Creative Art Summer Camp — at the Fr. Anton Buzo Center for Elders — spoke volumes for HCEF’s achievements over the past decade. The Fr. Buzo Center for Elders opened in July of 2005 as the first of its kind in Birzeit, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by H.B. Michel Sabbah, the then Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The center is a vivid example of parish partnerships that are initiated under HCEF programs that help maintain and sustain needed services for the local Christian community. The partnership between the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Birzeit is one such example that has been active since 2003.

Each day of Coloring Life with Creativity focused on a new theme, which the children experienced through art work, drama, games and modern dance. In addition to expanding their creativity, camp participants were guided in life skills and encouraged to maintain a positive perspective of themselves, their friends and their neighbors of all faiths. The month-long exercise also brought the children closer together as a Christian Ecumenical Group and earned them respect for one another’s parishes and churches.

Volunteers and staff display the summer camp banner

At the beginning of the camp, a banner was prepared using HCEF’s name and logo along with that of the camp. Festivities were kicked off with an orientation for both volunteers and children on the HCEF vision, the camp’s ethics and other general information. Each day was followed up with an evaluation process whereby volunteers and HCEF staff sought to improve on their gains from the previous session.

One of the camp participants was Lana Ayed, a student at the Friends Boys’ School (FBS) in Ramallah. Lana joined HCEF’s Creative Art Summer Camp as a volunteer and wrote on behalf of all the volunteers:

"This summer I had the privilege of working with the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation after being chosen as a volunteer to work in a newly implemented camp program targeted at children in the age group 9-11 years old. The camp activities were held twice a week for an entire month. One of the most important objectives for this camp was to help children appreciate the value of time and utilize it efficiently. In addition, it intended to implement qualities of teamwork and leadership, to help them discover how creative they can be, bring out the best in them, and encourage them to realize their own potentialities.

HCEF’s inaugural summer camp class poses proudly

"The camp was successfully operated. The children responded positively toward the different activities offered to them, such as painting and hand crafts, plays and theater, and dancing and singing. They participated enthusiastically. It was a great experience volunteering in this camp and with the people who supervised and supported it. I believe that the children who participated have gained a good experience and the goals of this camp have broadened their horizon of thinking."

HCEF gives special thanks to the Creative Art Summer Camp planning committee members, who included Sulima Zabaneh, Carmen Salameh, Sr. Henrietta (the lead artist), and Fr. Wissam. HCEF also thanks the camp volunteers: Lana Ayed, Njeh Brbar, Aziz Sayej, Vera Jasser, Mirna Abdallah, Rawan Saad, Juliana Zanayed, Nuha Abdallah, Nirmin Abdallah, Maryana Musalam, Yara Sayej and Jasser Jasser.

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