Friday, October 19

A Refugee camp and 'Lajee'

Jess and I visited an organization called Lajee this past week. They do some really good work there.

'Lajee' means 'refugee', and the organization is a youth center for children and grandchildren of refugees (who are still considered refugees themselves according to the UN). The center has books and computers for the kids to use, which is pretty important. For one thing, a lot of the children here don't have access to a computer at all; simple things like having email, learning your way around a keyboard, and not being afraid of knowing how to turn a computer on or open a Word document are all pretty important things when it comes time to get a job, even here in the West Bank. Simple things like computers are really important and provide a valuable service to the community. And, we really got to see the contrast between Lajee, where kids have computers to use and books to read, and what normal life was like, without the opportunity to have an after-school program; not so good; kids shouldn't be playing in the street near dumpsters, no matter where they live.

Lajee invited us to a photo exhibition they were having. Palestinian adults aren't allowed to cross certain lines here; for example, lots of Palestinians aren't allowed to go from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Most of the adults who are refugees now, meaning they aren't allowed to return to the homes they owned before 1948 or 1967, aren't allowed to go visit the sites of their former villages and towns. Children, however, are allowed to move with (somewhat) more impunity. So, Lajee gave the grandchildren of these refugees cameras, took them to their grandparents' old towns and villages, and had them take photos of where the grandparents villages used to be. In some places there are Israelis living there, in some places there are still the remains of buildings or you can see the edges of where a garden used to be, and in some places there is nothing and it looks as if no one has ever lived there. Lajee then put on a photo exhibition of the children's work. It was quite the community event. Grandparents and children were all there, and it got pretty difficult to find a seat.

It's great to be able to see direct ways that MCC impacts these people's lives. The photo exhibition was a huge event. A lot of the children that were there attend the summer camp that MCC largely funds. It's so important that we're able to help the youth of the community have something constructive to do. It provides an outlet for the children that are old enough to understand the current situation and helps provide hope that not everyone will have to grow up knowing what it's like to live in a refugee camp.

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