Monday was the first day of Camp Rafiqi in Beirut, and it was wonderful to see our hard work come together. After months of organizing things from the States and weeks of planning and negotiating in Beirut, it was encouraging to meet our adorable campers and be reminded of the reason for our work. Every member of the ETI team had a huge smile on their face all day; we couldn’t help it! Our camp is at St. Joseph’s University’s Medical Science campus. It is a beautiful venue, and in true Jesuit fashion, everyone here is helpful and kind (Sorry for my shameless plug for the Jesuits). The first day had a smaller turn-out than we would have hoped--with only 6 visually impaired students and 6 sighted students—but we aren’t worried at all. With the way Lebanese culture works, our numbers will double by the end of the week, we should have more campers than we know what to do with by the end of the month! Plus, the kids are having such a great time that we all feel like our camp will be fulfilling no matter what happens.
First, our camp director Hussein gathered the campers together and played some name games and ice breakers. Here you can see him joking with the children. Hussein is not only an intelligent guy, but because of his theater background, he is charismatic and the children adore him. I don’t speak Arabic and I seldom have any idea what is going on, but the kids are always laughing at his jokes, which in any culture is a great thing!
Next, our superstar counselor Eliane led us in the Camp Rafiqi song that she wrote. I’ve attached a video of this teaching session here: Rafiqi Song. As you can tell, the Arabic song sounds amazing—so amazing that we Americans are determined to learn it over the next few days. Roughly translated, the song says:
We’re coming with a great joy.
We’re coming extremely happy.
We want to play and learn.
The summer is very nice.
Once upon a time, there was a camp in our neighborhood
With gals and boys playing in that neighborhood
And you would be my friend And I would be yours.
Forever and Ever.
Sounds like a nice song for us :) After a delicious lunch provided by Socrate, the kids ran around like mad during sports. At first, we tried to lead them in more organized activities, but we quickly learned that the children were not trained like American children; they’re not used to quietly forming lines or teams and wait for instructions. We found it was best to let them play duck, duck, goose (or their slightly more complicated version of it in Arabic). The kids had a blast and ran off some energy, and that’s what matters.
Finally, Clara and Julien taught the kids dance and theater, and it turned out to be such a relaxing activity for them. These kids—who are naturally rambunctious and wild as kids are—found zen in the theater and dance classes. I was amazed at how focused the children were! Hopefully by the end of the month we will pick up some of Clara and Julien’s tricks!