Arab culture comes alive at annual camp

by: Ray Pitz, For the second year, an Arabic Heritage Summer Camp will give children and teens a look at Arabic culture. Pictured here are camp teachers, assistants, coordinators and students including, from left, Njoud Dajani, Maysa AbuSneineh, Hannah AbuSneineh, Sherine AbuSneineh, Heather AbuSneineh, Cindy Radler-Okby, Alaa Alokby, Munther Dajani and Adam Alokby.

A Beaverton Arabic Heritage Summer Camp is expected to give young people a chance to learn about the culture and heritage of Arab countries.

Beginning Monday and running through Friday, the camp will offer students ages 6 through 14 an opportunity to explore the folk tales and the language of Arab countries while participating in lots of hands-on activities such as weaving, creating mosaics and jewelry making.

The camp, which runs from 9 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. at 4115 S.W. 160th Ave., also will feature a special public event planned for Saturday.

Njoud Dajani, the camp's head teacher, said students thoroughly enjoyed themselves last year.

'It was amazing,' she said. 'The kids just loved it.'

Dajani, who is of Palestinian descent, said there are many misconceptions of the Middle East and Arabic culture, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

She said she believes the camp will provide a way to 'open the eyes of what the culture is really all about.'

For camp director Cindy Radler-Okby, one of the goals is to take the mystery out of Arabic society. She said the camp won't include religious themes.

'It's entirely about language and culture,' said Radler-Okby. 'We have all our campers returning and new campers as well.'

Last year's event attracted 17 students. This year, students from North Portland, Tigard, Beaverton and Hillsboro are expected to attend.

One of the featured guests during Tuesday's camp will be former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh, who headed the state from 1979 to 1987.

'We're really honored to have him visit us,' said Radler-Okby. Atiyeh, whose credits include successful efforts to enact laws against racial harassment, is on the board of directors of Atiyeh Brothers, the Portland rug and carpet firm his father established.

Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake will speak to students on Tuesday as well.

'He's going to talk a little bit about the cultural diversity in Beaverton,' said Radler-Okby, adding that he also will read a book to students.

Artwork from camp participants will be displayed during September at Beaverton City Hall.

City's diversity

The camp's featured artist will be Linda dalal Sawaya, a noted painter, children's book illustrator, photographer and writer. Sawaya, who is of Lebanese descent, who will guide students in creating a piece of artwork focusing on the theme of peace.

Students also will create jewelry.

'Last year, we found the kids really enjoyed creating these things with their hands,' said Radler-Okby.

In addition, Penny's Puppets, a noted puppet troupe, will perform. Last year, the troupe took Arabic folk tales and created a program just for the camp in a performance that drew rave reviews.

'The kids were laughing so hard they were falling over,' said Radler-Okby.

Teacher Dajani said one of the main focuses will be folk tales. She said in most Arab countries men and women often go into cafes or markets to hear tales told by a storyteller.

'And he's just telling stories of the olden days,' she said.

The folk tales will include a focus on Djouha, a trickster character found in Arabic stories.

'We do him because he teaches lessons,' said Radler-Okby. Students also will learn the dabkeh, a traditional Arabic step dance.

On Aug. 26, there will be an open house trying to recreate a traditional Arabic market (known as a souq) with an exhibition of their artwork and performances of several skits between 2 and 4 p.m.

The public is welcome to attend, but should RSVP by calling 503-259-3201 so organizers know how many are coming.

That same number can be used to register for the camp, which costs $150 for the week.