16 June 2011
This year's Gaza Summer Games have officially opened with an Olympic-style torch relay through the Strip.
The annual Summer Games season is the largest recreational programme for some quarter of a million children in Gaza. This year, both the games and the Israeli blockade of Gaza enter their fifth year.
Fifty-seven children took part in today’s relay in five teams representing each of Gaza’s governorates. Collectively, the children covered over 79km, from a beach location in each of their neighborhoods to Gaza City. Each torch was lit by a local sports figure.
During a jubilant ceremony at UNRWA’s Gaza City field office, the young runners marked the official opening of the 2011 games. The main torch was lit by Nader El Masri, the winner of the Gaza marathon and a 2012 Olympic hopeful.
The flame will burn until 28 July, when the summer season ends.
Ingenuity under siege
The torch for Wednesday’s event was created from recycled materials by Jamal Diab, a 53-year old blacksmith, in his small workshop in Gaza’s old city. Knowing that the torch would be used by children in relays across Gaza, Diab worked hard to develop a safe, self-cooling torch out of spare parts from his workshop, including kitchen utensils.
“I don’t normally make torches, but when I heard that UNRWA was looking for one for the Summer Games, I thought why not,” he said.
Showing a group of UNRWA students around his workshop, Diab gave a masterclass in how to ignite and carry the torch, before wishing the children best of luck for the ceremony and the Games.
“I am so delighted I am participating in the torch relay,” said Afnan Al-Bura’ai, from the UNRWA school in Jabalia.
“I participated in the Gaza marathon a few weeks ago, and I’m so happy to be running again today.”
Fun and games, in spite of blockade
Initiated at the request of the local community, the games give Gazan children a chance to have fun and a sense of normality, in an environment which is anything but normal. The season provides a diverse set of fun activities for children in the beleaguered coastal area, including sports, swimming, arts, and drama.
Speaking at yesterday’s event, acting director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, Christer Nordahl, said:
“The Summer Games build on our ongoing work in Gaza to develop children’s talents, to give them room for self-expression and to teach them to respect one another - all based on the universal values of human rights.”
“Most importantly,” said Nordahl, “through the Summer Games, we give the kids of Gaza a chance to be kids, to have fun, learn new things and meet new friends.”
“We are giving these children a rare opportunity – which shouldn’t be exceptional – but it is.”
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