Lajee Center (‘lajee’ means ‘refugee’ in Arabic), was established in Aida Refugee Camp in April 2000 by a group of 11 young people from the Camp who wanted to serve the community. Lajee is a community-based grassroots creative cultural centre that works with new generations of Palestinians as they continue their ongoing struggle for justice and rights for Palestine and all Palestinians.
The centre began as a dream for its creators who worked intensively and with true Palestinian ‘sumoud’ (steadfastness) in order to make that dream become a reality. By April 2001, Lajee had rented its first premises, a former garage measuring 70 square meters that was to be Lajee’s base until 2009. In the same month Lajee was registered with the Ministry of NGO Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority.
The main aim of the center is to provide refugee youth with cultural, educational, social and developmental opportunities. Its programs are designed in response to the particular needs of the community and the skills and abilities of its members, whilst always remaining in full support and defense of all Palestinian rights.
Lajee has built links with several local and international organisations which assist the center in conducting its activities. Local organisations include a network of active centres in Palestinian refugee camps that was established through Lajee’s ‘OUR VOICE’ project who are working collectively and creatively towards joint goals of freedom and justice, BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, the Refugee Service Affairs Committee, and several other Palestinian organisations and NGO’s. Internationally, Lajee has the working support of many organisations including the Mennonite Central Committee, HOPING Foundation, The Pontificial Mission, the Belgian Technical Cooperation, and Broederlijk Delen amongst many others.
Over and above Lajee’s relationships with organisations, the centre’s work and development would not have been possible without the incredible support we have received from many friends around the world. Individual people have, since the Lajee dream was born, stood by the centre through support of our work and goals in terms of solidarity, project development, and in several cases through financial backing. All these people to date, and all future friends, support our belief in grassroots people-to-people tangible and internationalist solidarity.
Lajee organises cultural, social, and artistic activities for youth in the Bethlehem area. While our activities are based in Aida Camp, we also have active members from Dheisheh and Al-Azza Refugee Camps, and the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Ad-Doha. Members range in age from young children of 4 years up to youth in their twenties. We continuously strive to open our projects up to new members from Aida Camp and the surrounding areas and expand our volunteer base.
The Center aims to develop social and rights-based awareness in refugee youth although our work is not exclusive to refugees; our projects and activities are open to all Palestinians. It structures and implements its activities in such a way as to eliminate all forms of discrimination against social class or gender. Activities are organised with the goal of fostering in the participants a wider understanding of the world in which they live, focusing on issues relating specifically to their own society, culture and history, as well as the global context. Our hope is to develop the social awareness of members, deepen their education, and provide them with the critical skills necessary for them to take on an active role in their society.
Lajee seeks to encourage and enhance the talents of members by supporting and fostering their cultural, artistic and rights-based development through our programs. We believe that by providing the new generations with developmental opportunities, we will give them the motivation and the skills necessary to pursue their interests and vocations through their future. All the Center’s activities aim to provide members with a key to their future and a conviction that they are the makers of their own future.
All our activities are organised by supportive members of the community, and our programs depend entirely on the voluntary efforts of our members, with some support from related institutions and interested individuals. Our full-time volunteers include several who have grown with Lajee since they themselves were child members and who know run projects and activities with the next generation.
The Lajee Center Administrative Board is comprised of members of the local community and is 100% Palestinian in its board members. This supports our ideological belief in Palestinians deciding and building their own future. The Board also includes several former child participants at Lajee. Board members are elected through fully democratic bi-annual elections at which all Lajee members aged 16 and upwards are invited to cast their votes.
2010 marked the tenth year since the creation of the Lajee dream, yet despite this relatively short existance Lajee has established itself as a highly respected organisation both nationally and internationally through our work. We continually strive to create new projects and offer wider facilities but through the first ten years of Lajee's existance our acheivements include:
- Establishing and developing a 'Dabka' (Palestinian folk dance) troupe comprised of children aged from 10 years old upto 18 and mixed-gender that performs widely and regularly around the area of Palestine refered to as the 'West Bank' and that has also toured internationally to popular acclaim in the UK (2008/2010), and Syria (2007/2009).
- Publication of 4 bi-lingual (Arabic/English) books showcasing the work and ideas of our members: The Boy and the Wall (first published in 2005 and reprinted 6 times due to popularity); Our Eyes (first published in 2008, republished later in 2008 and 2010); Dreams of Home (first published in 2008, republished later in 2008 and 2010); Flying Home (first published in 2009, republished in 2010).
- Organisation and practice of two UK cultural tours (2008/2010) showcasing a wide-ranging display of our arts and media work including photography, film, and dance. These tours attracted around 3000 members of the British public to a wide range of public and participatory events.
- Organisation and hosting of over 30 international photography exhibitions of our youth photography projects. These exhibitions have been held in 9 countries to date across 4 continents and attracted audiences totaling well over ten thousand people. Highlights of these exhibitions include the 'Nakba 60' national tour of Australia (2008), headlining the 'Art of Resistance' Palestinian Cultural Festival in Amsterdam (2008), the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2008), Norwegian national Tour (2009), French Tour (2010), and an accliamed exhibition at the internationally renowned photographic gallery 'FotoMuseum' in Antwerp, Belgium (2010).
- Purchase, construction, and establishment of new premises for Lajee. The new and current premises which measures 300 square metres were built by local volunteers and became the sole full-time home of Lajee in 2008.
- Establishment of a full-time and sustainable Arts and Media Unit in 2009 which was created with the ongoing support of the HOPING Foundation.
- Lajee's cultural work has achieved recognition in several international and national awards including: Lajee's book The Boy and the Wall was awarded the Scout Fuller Award in the U.S. (2008); First place in the 'Al-Awda Awards International Children's Photography Competition' (2009 & 2010); Lajee's film The Living Martyrs was awarded joint first place in the 'Palestinian Prisoners Society Film Awards' (2009); Lajee's films 'Ali Wall' and 'Between the Fleeting Worlds' were shortlisted in the international 'This is Israeli Apartheid' film competition (2010).
Hosting Internationals in Palestine
Since its establishment, including throughout the Intifada, Lajee has staged an annual International Summer Camp during which up to 30 international volunteers in Aida Camp for two weeks every summer. Furthermore, Lajee has hosted and continues to offer volunteer placements to international volunteers who have specific skills or projects that Lajee beliefs support its ideology and help the centre to develop its projects and facilities.
Lajee Center's Idealogy
Lajee Center works in full support of all national, human, and moral rights without exception. Much of our project work focuses in some way on the inalienable 'Right of Return' for all refugees as stipulated in United Nations resolution number 194 (December 1948). Lajee Center refuses any financial support from Palestinian political factions so as to not foster or support in any way any favoritism or divisios within Palestinian society in the belief that Palestine and Palestinians must be unified to be strong. Lajee Center refuses the division of Palestinian people on any level, this belief includes the implementation of all projects and work on an inclusive mixed-gender basis. Lajee Center is an active signatory to the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli regime. Our commitment to BDS includes full practice of all aspects of BDS in our work and the spreading of information and awareness about BDS through networking, workshops, and education.
Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Ministry of Interior
Charitable Society/ Charitable Body
The ministry of Interior certifies that the society of Lajee Center, active in Bethlehem area/Aida Camp, has been registered in the authorized departments according to the law of the national bodies number 6/ 2001 on Monday 12/11/2001, in the northern governorates region under temporarily registration.
Mohammed Lutfi Yasin.
General Director of ministry of Interior/ West Bank