Final Farewell - Eleanor


On the 4th of July, the interns said goodbye to their summer camp students. The students in my class are all 13-14 years old, and we had been playing sports and games together for an intensive four weeks before our session came to an end. Despite the occasional arguing, throwing of water cups, cheating at games, eye-rolling, and language-related confusion, it was truly touching to see how saying goodbye affected different students in different ways. Younger camp groups didn't realize it was the last day, or didn't process it beyond acting out. But the older students from my classes were aware enough to say their goodbyes to both me and the volunteers, and each other.

Eleanor in class

Two of my favorite students simply didn't come to camp on the last day, and I can't help but wondering if that was to avoid the goodbyes. Other students purposefully avoided eye-contact and just left without looking back, again I suspect they were avoiding the moment of goodbye. There was a flurry of exchanging emails and Facebook names. We took over 300 pictures on the last day of every combination of backdrop, student, teacher, and volunteer imaginable.

They all took down their name cards that they had made on the first day, and that hung on our whiteboard all session, with their picture, decoration, and mini-bio. There was a mob to claim the name cards of the volunteers and myself, and one volunteer asked to take home the card of a student who was absent that day. I asked if he was going to see this student and give it to him, and he looked at me sheepishly and said, “No, I just want to remember him."

When it came to lining up by refugee camp to get on the busses home, we had to practically pull kids apart to put them in their respective lines. But I did it happily, since these friendships between kids of different camps didn't exist four weeks ago. When the classes started, kids barely wanted to sit with, play with, or talk to kids from other camps and now we couldn't separate them. One girl burst into tears when she had to say goodbye to her friends, and was consoled with the realization that all of these students live in the same city as her and that none of them need be separated, and same with the volunteers.

Eleanor and girls

Part of TYO's work with the students from refugee camps is helping kids realize what they have in common with those from other camps, and to form bonds between camps. We want students to build friendships with people of different backgrounds and perspectives. This includes the bonds between the volunteers and kids -  when the session started, none of my Nablusi volunteers had ever been to a camp or knew anyone from the camps. And, of course, the bonds formed between the American interns and Palestinian volunteers, staff, and students is another important goal of TYO's summer camp classes.

I certainly struggled as much, if not more, than the kids to say goodbye. I will certainly never forget these students, and am proud to have been part of their lives.