Bringing Hope and Love from Palestine to America
Picture a Palestinian boy, 14 years old and about to enter high school. His name is Alaa and he’s wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt and wields a hammer. He and a few other young people are working to fix up the home of an under-privileged woman in… Petersburg, Virginia?
Yes, you read that right.
Last week, a group of teenagers from Nablus, Palestine joined forces with teenagers in the U.S. at Tri-Cities Workcamps, a Christian-based volunteer work experience based in Petersburg, VA and run by a woman named Connie Romaine.
In a world so often run by fear, Romaine and her fellow WorkCampers have found a truly unique – and incredibly effective – way to bridge cultural barriers and facilitate understanding between two very different worlds, all within the bounds of WorkCamp, founded in 1987 and now in its 29th year.
Each summer, roughly 200 youth and adults come together in Petersburg for two separate weeks of WorkCamp, during which campers work hard during the day and play hard at night and, over the course of seven days, form what are often life-long friendships with their fellow campers. That may sound completely crazy, but ask any WorkCamper and they’ll tell you it’s true.
Campers come mostly from Virginia, but also from Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, and, for the 4th time since 2012, from as far away as Palestine. Led by Father Ibrahim Nayrouz, an Episcopal minister who studied in Egypt, the Palestinian group opens a wider door for understanding – on both sides – than some might expect.
“With all of the disparaging news about Palestine, these youth are shining examples of their
churches, families and schools,” says WorkCamp. “Through work and play, deep and lasting friendships are formed between the Arab youth and the American teens.”
What could possibly be a better way to fight misunderstanding between cultures?
“Having this group of teens join us here creates so many ripple effects. Misunderstanding about the Arab/Palestinian culture is erased. The Middle Eastern teens get to experience freedom without fear,” the group added. And, what’s more, all of the teens (both American and Palestinian) become aware of and experience first hand the poverty than can and does exist in America – the land of plenty and the American Dream.
“If people who are constantly in danger make that trip to come here just to help other people for a week then there’s more love and kindness in the world than society tells us there is,” 16-year-old Hope Grubbs told us. Grubbs, who lives nearby, participated in WorkCamp for the first time this summer.
“I want to help people understand how amazing our God is and how he knows what bringing these groups of people together will do for us,” she added.
That’s not to say it was all easy: many of the Palestinians who joined WorkCamp last week spoke little English, and even with Google translate there was a lot that got lost in translation.
For Mike Pruitt, a long-time veteran of WorkCamp as a handyman and a member of staff, it was a misunderstanding about water fountains that hit home and underscored just how different life can be between the West Bank and America.
After handing out bottles of water to a few of the Palestinians while the cafeteria water cooler was being refilled, Pruitt and another staff member wondered aloud why the youth hadn’t just refilled their bottles at the water fountain right behind them. It was then they realized that for those who were visiting America for the first time, they may not have any idea what a water fountain was or that it provided clean water.
“The story about the water fountain was an eye opening moment for me on how something so small for us as having fresh water on demand was so huge for them,” Pruitt told us. “Really hit me hard.”
Still, however, there were moments where language barriers faded into the background as something much more important – laughter – brought youth from such vastly different worlds together.
“Mayar and I were dancing together on Thursday and it was so much fun and we were both giggling like crazy and I realized at that moment that it doesn’t matter what language we speak because we can all love together, cry together, and dance together,” Grubbs told us. “That was kind of my God moment right there.”
WE SAID THIS: We can’t think of a better way to teach the next generation love and acceptance rather than fear and hate.