Each year the summer camp chooses a different theme that relates to the children’s identity and the surrounding reality. For 2005, the organizers decided to focus on the struggles that workers have waged through history to improve their conditions.
Samya Nasser, coordinator of the educational work in Nazareth, had this to say: “The choice of theme derives from our intimate acquaintance with the working people of the Arab sector. Although workers are a majority in our society, they don’t have proportional influence. Together with WAC, we are trying to help the children and the whole community to understand the importance of the worker for society. This year we decided to focus on five types of laborer from different periods:
- The primitive
- The slave
- The vassal and craftsperson
- The industrial worker
Asma Agbarieh, who directed the camp at Um al-Fahm, reported that it “was composed of children from Um al-Fahm and nearby Kufr Qara. The former came from families with working and high-school youth who’ve taken part in our projects during the year. The Kufr Qara campers came from the families of WAC workers. When recruiting started, I quickly saw that there’s a hunger to take part in a camp of this sort. In going from house to house, we showed the short video we’d made about last year’s camp. We registered 50 kids in two days, although we hadn’t planned on so many. We had to close the list. But we also got a boost from the older youth. Although we only needed ten counselors in Um al-Fahm, more than twenty volunteered. Some even took off from work.”
I asked if the content wasn’t too ambitious. Sharon Horodi, one of nine coordinators who designed the program, agreed it wasn’t easy. “Our big challenge was to convey complex information about social and economic structures in a language that would fit the world of the child.”
The Baqa Centers have a “device” that enables them to turn a dry topic into a living experience. This is the Wandering Worker. Ra’afat Khattab of Jaffa, who created the role two years ago, explains the concept: “We needed an image that would develop from one day to the next, or more exactly, from one historical period to the next, in order to communicate the changes through which human beings have gone. The Wandering Worker might be the narrator, the witness, or he might be the main player. Where history is usually told from the viewpoint of the ‘king,’ we chose to tell it from that of the ‘laborer.’”
Asma Agbarieh: “Another device that we used this time was the distribution of food in different periods. What kid isn’t connected to food? On the first day, for instance, we wanted to explain how in primitive times, when people were very weak in the face of nature, cooperation was a necessity. We used nuts to show that distribution was equal.”
Hanan Manadreh of Nazareth: “We made a cave as scenery and costumes from fur. That afternoon, when we went to the Hecht Museum of Archaeology at Haifa University, the children could answer the questions of the museum guide and also add points of their own.
“The second day,” Hanan continues, “was the day of the slave. The children made scenery and costumes for the king’s palace. They laid out a sumptuous feast, with all kinds of fruit and candy. Since they were in the role of the slaves, they were not permitted to eat. They looked on with big eyes as the king and his courtiers consumed it all.”
Asma Agbarieh: “On the morning of the third day, Feudalism Day, one of the counselors came in with this story. After Slavery Day, her little sister, from the camp’s youngest age-group, had refused to clear her older sister’s plate and cup from the table. When the older one insisted, she answered her, ‘What! Do you think you’re the queen and I’m your slave? Do it yourself!’ When we heard this that morning, we didn’t know it foreshadowed a Children’s Revolt.
“The day’s program began in a grove of trees, the Shuni Wood, with the usual preparation of breakfast. Each group made a separate course. The youngest shaped balls of chocolate, the middle ones squeezed orange juice, and the oldest did a fruit salad. All worked on the meal, not knowing they were part of the play. Then the feudal lord stepped in, wearing fancy clothes and girded with a sword. ‘Hail, my vassals!’ he cried. ‘I have come to gather what belongs to me. I own the land that you’re living on. You and everything you produce from my land belongs to me!” His assistants arrived and gathered up the entire meal, except for two chocolate balls, half a glass of orange juice, and a small bowl of fruit salad – the vassals’ portion.
Hussein Jabarin (22), the counselor who played the lord, had hardly started to wheel off his booty in a cart, when Muhammad Sufian, age 7, surprised us all by rising from the audience, grabbing a stick and shouting at Lord Hussein that he’d better give the food back immediately. Hussein stayed in character, shouting back, “How dare you raise your voice at me!” A “sword fight” then broke out between Lord Hussein and little Muhammad, while the rest of the children cheered their hero on. Suddenly all fifty rose up as one and chased Lord Hussein through the grove, not returning till the whole breakfast was in their hands. Stunned and breathless, Hussein complained that this was not in the script.
The second part of the day was devoted to the worker as craftsman. In Jaffa, the group made a walking tour through the Flea Market, visiting potters and furniture repairers. Sharon Horodi: “They were able to look at the cityscape of their childhood with different eyes.” Then they returned to the Center and made a feudal castle from blocks of wood, plastic bottles, cardboard, and whatever else came to hand, complete with knights and horses from clay, fences from match sticks, flags from rags.
“Modern Times” in color
Capitalism Day began with the screening of a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, where Charlie tries to keep up with the conveyor belt until he falls into the machine. Though black, white and silent, the film captivated the children.
Then it was up to them to play Charlie. Each got a factory uniform, an apron, gloves and a tag with his or her name on it. We explained that they were going to work in a biscuit-manufacturing plant. The biscuits were made with chocolate spread and crispies; then they were wrapped and labeled. The children worked in pairs, forming an assembly line on both sides of a table. Each pair received the biscuit from the pair before it and prepared a new stage of the final product.
Enter Hussein the Factory Owner. He berated the smaller workers that didn’t keep up the pace, threatening to fire them. To those who couldn’t withstand temptation and nibbled on the product, he announced that he would cut their wages. The children got the message and speeded up the work, quickly filling the box. But instead of receiving a “Thank you,” they heard these words: “I’ve decided to fire you all. It doesn’t pay to run this factory. I don’t make enough profit. From this moment the plant is closed. I’m re-opening in China, where a worker only costs a tenth of what I pay each of you.”
This time we hastened to calm the young Muhammad, who had risen once again in the cause of justice. We wanted to stick to the text. The Wandering Worker, Fadi, arose and asked his smaller colleagues: “Are you willing to let him talk to you like that?” The children shouted, “No!” He asked, “Are you going to let them close down the factory and throw us out on the street?” The answer came, “No!” “Who do these biscuits belong to?” “Us.” “Who does the factory belong to?” “Us!” But before Fadi could call on two volunteers to wrest the factory key from the owner’s hands, all the children started chasing Hussein, who again sought refuge in the woods.
When calm was restored at last, the children went on a visit to the Omega paint factory in Kibbutz Kfar Glickson. There they encountered the machines that make the paints they use for artwork in the Center. Some thought to ask one of the workers about conditions. She answered: “I work 12 hours without a break, standing, and I’m paid the minimum wage.” Modern Times in color.
The fifth day: A new society is possible
The members of the three camps met. The purpose of the day was to organize a final procession and proclaim the establishment of a new society. It began in an atmosphere of friendly competition, with songs and chants each camp had composed, as well as dances and drumming. One chant gradually became the central message of the procession: “The children of WAC are we, the hands of the workers are we, and we shall establish a civilization of justice!”
If anyone thought the theme was too advanced, this was answered in the joint performance of the three Wandering Workers. They appeared one by one on the stage: first the slave (Ra’afat Khattab of Jaffa), then the vassal (Fadi Agbarieh from Um al-Fahm, and finally the factory worker (Liali Muhammad of Nazareth). Like people hurled through a time tunnel into the Shuni Wood on July 7, 2005, they stumbled about, uncertain of their identities, hoping the campers could help them recall who they were. These answered in detail, bringing a smile of triumph to the actors’ faces.
The children from the various camps then mixed and separated according to age, organizing for the procession. Some fashioned flags and banners with slogans of their own invention, others made musical instruments, songs and chants. Each group elected two representatives, male and female, to a Constitutional Convention.
In Asma Agbarieh’s workshop, the children were asked about the things they don’t like in today’s reality. One of them, Muhammad, spoke about the confiscation of Arab lands, giving the example of his family’s lands in the Carmel region. Mayis complained that not all the children have schoolbooks. Miryam said that the national health plan excludes many medicines that the poor can’t afford to buy. Omar summarized the sense of the meeting thus: All should be equal in possessions.
The group then drew up the articles of the Constitution. These provided for an end to exploitation. All human beings must be equal, they held, without regard to race, sex, religion or ethnic group. Land would be redistributed equally, and the same would hold for educational and health services. There would be an end to war. Freedom and justice would flourish.