As we walked into the small door leading to the stairwell, I could hear the chanting and laughter of the children, which reminded me of how important this volunteer opportunity was to me. These children come to the Assri Center for relief. To them it is an outlet and one of the few places they can go without being reminded of the situations they live in. Here they can be children.
As I take the last of the 40 steps to enter the floor of the center, I am already attacked by 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds holding out their hands in order to shake mine. For a minute I feel like a celebrity. “Salam,” “Marhaba,” “Hello,” “Are you really from America?” was all I was hearing. At that point, I was close to overwhelmed until Zahra, one of the mentors at the Assri, came to my rescue. “Go to your groups; you will get to meet Zainab and Mariam more in a little,” Zahra said. I mouthed “shukran” and we made our way to the office where my sister and I saw the rest of the mentors.
As I wrote earlier, the Assri’s main purpose is to give children an outlet, and they do this through art, dance, music and folklore. There are four “corners” at the Assri. During the two-week summer camp, the kids get to experience each corner for the first week and get to choose which corner interests them the most in the second week. The corners are as follows: Drama/acting with Abdullah, poetry with Samy, singing/music with Aaed, and art and crafts with Zahra.
Back in the office, Mariam and I chose which corner to volunteer with. I was first to pick and chose arts and crafts with Zahra. This decision was made simply because I was interested to see how children, specifically the children of Gaza, expressed themselves through their artwork. On the other hand, Mariam chose drama with Abdullah because she enjoys acting and helping children release what may be bothering them through acting.
Once the decisions were made, Mariam and I walked into the main hall where Aaed was leading the morning assembly. During the assembly, the children dance, sing, and basically become energized. One thing caught my attention the most, which was the children singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Arabic. This was so much fun to listen to and brought back my own childhood memories of singing the same song over and over in kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of fun and games, everyone was asked to go to their assigned corners.
In arts and crafts with Zahra, all the children got to know each other a little more through a game called “Who are you?” This game basically consisted of a child throwing a ball into the air to start. Whoever caught the ball was to introduce himself or herself to the group. After everyone finished introducing themselves, each child began to work on the art activity of the day. Today the art activity was called “Cut and Paste,” which consisted of cutting out your drawings and pasting them on a separate piece of construction paper. After everyone finished their work, the masterpieces where collected and saved for the upcoming exhibit in which the children’s family members are invited to see the progress and artwork of their child.
All in all, today was a great day! I saw children smile, laugh, and enjoy themselves, something I wouldn’t give up for the world.