AMMAN – Underprivileged youngsters of different ages and backgrounds learned about God while having fun with newfound friends in the first summer camp in Amman, Jordan, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission, the operating agency in the Middle East of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
The two five-day camps gave the children, Jordanian, Palestinian and Iraqi, an opportunity to escape the hardships they face in their daily lives. To plan activities that were age appropriate, camp personnel divided the children into two groups – ages 7 through 12 and 13 through 17.
“The children we had in our camps came from deprived backgrounds,” said Franciscan Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, a social worker in CNEWA’s Amman office, who coordinated the program. “We offered them a getaway where they could be free from suffering for a while,” she said.
Sister Wardeh added that the main purpose of the camp was to show the youngsters they were not alone, that there are people who care about them.
“We wanted them to learn about God’s love and how he never forgets us no matter how lonely and weak we might feel,” she explained. “When these kids know they are loved they will ultimately love and give back to society in return,” she added.
Sister Wardeh used the grounds of the Theodore Schneller School in Ruseifeh on the outskirts of Amman for the camps. The campers had access to the school’s dormitories, classrooms and sports facilities on its 173 acres.
On arriving at the camps the children were grouped into small “families.” This allowed them to bond with other campers. This sense of belonging, Sister Wardeh said, is often missing in their lives.
The curriculum included not only regular camp activities – arts and crafts, drama, sports and dance – but programs tailored to their special needs. For example, in Bible study they applied the morals learned to their own lives. They were also asked to “look for God” in members of their “camp family.”
To help the children cope with problems with their own families, the youngsters received counseling. They were also encouraged to discuss their personal feelings with fellow campers. Sharing common experiences, said Sister Wardeh, helped the children know they were not alone, that others have the same problems.
CNEWA also helped the youngsters in other ways. Many of them, Sister Wardeh said, arrived at the camp with only one change of clothes and worn-out shoes. The papal agency gave the children new outfits.
Some 180 children attended both camp sessions. Eighteen young men and women volunteers assisted Sister Wardeh along with 16 women who work in her office.
“Everyone worked so hard to make the camps a success,” said Sister Wardeh. “Our satisfaction was in seeing the campers’ happy faces.
“It was a wonderful experience for everyone – the children, the staff, the volunteers. I would like the camps to become a regular part of the programs we offer. But that depends on whether we can get financial support.”
Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA is special agency of the Vatican providing support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Projects include needy child, seminarian and novice sponsorship programs; village redevelopment; health care and education and interfaith dialogue.