Under the pine trees of Our Lady of Victory School in Kfifan, Lebanon, Amar, Joseph, Mohamed and other Iraqi children gather around a huge piece of white paper, writing an appeal for peace and love to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Amar, Joseph and Mohamed are among 30 Iraqi children aged 10 to 14 who are spending time at a camp organised by the Lebanese association Joy of Giving. The camp, which runs from August 1st to the 15th, adopted the theme "Let's Build Bridges and Meet".
The camp brings children from various Iraqi regions and religious communities and provides an opportunity for Iraqi Muslim and Christian children to meet in an atmosphere free of fear and prejudice. Lebanese children are also taking part in the activities.
The children's days are filled with cultural and recreational activities, and visits to tourist and archaeological sites. The children also attend plays and films and meet with clergy of various denominations to learn the values of "humanity, love and acceptance".
The children begin each day raising the Iraqi and Lebanese flags in front of a large mural. In the centre of the mural are two maps depicting Iraq and Lebanon connected by a bridge. Children break into teams named Baghdad, Beirut, Erbil, Tyre, Basra and Tripoli, and each has a programme of activities.
Around one table, girls gather for a drawing workshop. Mariam Nadim Shamoun, a 10-year-old from Karrada, draws the Iraqi flag.
"It is the first time I have experienced my childhood. I am happy here because I can play with other Iraqis. We learn songs and drawing. I could not do these things in Karrada," she said.
Amar Majid, a 12-year-old from Obeidi, is one of the children who wrote the appeal to the Lebanese and Iraqi presidents.
"I am happy because I am learning the meaning of peace, love, tolerance and respect," he said, adding that he hopes they will organise a similar camp in Iraq.
Joseph Jalil, a 13-year-old from Karrada, said, "I will return to Karrada with my friends to play together in love and peace. Here we are learning love, self-dependence and respect for diversity in others."
With the sound of the school bell, teams arrive from a trip to Kfifan, where there is a mosque alongside the Monastery of Our Lady of Kfifan. The children rush to form a circle as the time has come to learn a new song.
"Here, Muslim children met Christian children, and they built friendships they want to maintain when they return to Iraq. They are experiencing the childhood they were deprived of," said camp director Mohamed Diab.
Kathem Abdul Zahar, director of the Iraqi Centre for Child Culture and a mentor at the camp, said the experience that the children are getting at the camp is very important.
"As soon as we return, we must spread its concepts throughout all of Iraq," he said. "We need this experiment in Iraq because it has a positive impact on a child's psyche and because the government is not concerned with projects specifically for children."
Suhaila Abdul Hussein, a mentor from the Iraqi Women's League, said, "Our children need an experience like this to meet other children to find out about differences and learn that living with these differences is not difficult."
"We are counting a great deal on the message our children will send to our president. I hope this experience will be made standard throughout the provinces so a child from Basra can visit Baghdad and vice versa. We want to live with each other," she said.
Father Karam, head of the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Karrada, said the camp has exceeded expectations.
"The children have discovered capacities they did not know they had. The camp developed the children's awareness about the importance of coexistence among different religious communities with love and mutual co-operation."
"When the idea to participate in the camp was presented, I wondered if we could unite Iraq. When the camp was launched with this enthusiasm, I became certain that we could influence society and build a common future," Karam said.
Melhem Khalaf, a lawyer and one of the people in charge at the Joy of Giving Association, said, "The goal is to offer hope in the East and all of civilisation for which we must be pioneers. We wanted to serve as a bridge of convergence."
He addressed the Iraqi people, saying, "Through children, we say to them, your tomorrow will be better."
On Friday (August 12th), the children will submit their appeal for peace to Dr. Rima Khalaf, the UN Secretary General's representative in Lebanon. On Saturday evening, they will present their joint Lebanese-Iraqi appeal at the centre of the assembly and will return to Iraq on Tuesday.