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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
18 August 2008

Refugee Stories

Summer Games: Beit Hanoun Smiles on the Gaza Seashore

Gaza, August 2008

Smiling faces and eyes full of joy and sparkling energy, an atmosphere full of the innocence of childhood... This describes the Summer Games run by UNRWA on a small beach on the Gaza City seashore near Beit Hanoun.

One Summer Games location is Beit Hanoun, a town more often associated with Israeli incursions and an increasingly high number of deaths and injuries. Like the rest of the Gaza Strip, Beit Hanoun faces economic collapse, continued Israeli strangulation on supplies in and out and intermittent factional violence. This has resulted in immense psychological stress amongst the local population.

This year’s “Summer Games” initiative in Gaza provides much needed recreational opportunities for the youth of the beleaguered territory. These types of opportunities are rare in Gaza.

As the largest youth recreational initiative to have taken place in Gaza to date, UNRWA’s Summer Games 2008 is catering to over a quarter of a million participants over a period of 10 weeks. The activities on offer include swimming and a variety of sports, arts and crafts, creative reading, drama, environmental activities and field trips to the newly opened Museum of Archaeology in Gaza.

Ghadeer Amawi, aged 13, said of Summer Games: "Here I do something… I swim, draw and build sand castles… I feel sad when it is time to go home."

"At home, I don’t do anything but help my mother. I feel bored all day. But here, I feel there isn’t enough time in the day to practice everything!" she added.
Nada Al-Jarisi, 9 years, agreed that, "Summer camp is much better than staying at home. There’s no place to play in our town so we always stay home. But here, we have so much to do! I love the sea very much and I wish the camp lasted for a longer period of time."

Hani Abu Hatab, the overall supervisor of the summer camps from Sharek Youth Forum, explained, "This two-week camp hosts 224 girls from Beit Hanoun town, aged between 6 and 12 years. Every morning they ride special buses from Beit Hanoun to the seashore to join the camp."

Abu Hatab stressed, "The main goal of these programs and camps is to provide recreational opportunities and a place of release for the pressures experienced by Gazan children on a daily basis.  Moreover the camps promote children’s talents and creativity."

The theme of releasing pressure is echoed by many of the camp workers.

Lubna Ghali, a camp “animator” or organiser, said, "Our Summer Games bring joy, happiness and hope into the lives of Beit Hanoun’s children. Those from marginalised and underprivileged areas are in most need of care and attention…We ensure that problems related to stress can have an outlet through these exceptional programmes."

Faddiyeh Abu Sa'dah, a plastic arts animator with Sharek Youth Forum, has previously worked in such projects run by UNRWA but said that her current experience in Beit Hanoun has been particularly rewarding.

She noticed a high level of tension and violence among the children in the first days, but noted, "Three days later, things started to take another direction as the girls became more calm and enjoyed the activities, smiling and having fun."

Diana Al-Za'anin, 10 years, another Summer Games participant, said, "I like drawing very much. Here, I build houses and shelters in the sand and swim with my friends all the time. In Beit Hanoun, people rarely go to the sea because of the difficult situation. But here we are provided with everything."

Hanin Al-Kafarneh, 12 years, shared the same opinion: "Here, I am very happy with my friends in Summer Games. I hope it will be repeated many times. I like swimming the most, as well as building sandcastles."

John Ging, UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, said: “The children of Gaza deserve and need an escape from the psychological trauma of their daily misery.”

Noting that every single item of equipment for Summer Games – including footballs, colouring pencils and even paper – had to be specially brought into Gaza by UNRWA, Ging stated, “It is so important to provide children with the opportunity that children in other countries often take for granted. The potential for a better future will only be achieved if Gaza’s younger generation is provided with the semblance of a normal life – creative learning experiences, room for self-expression, and opportunities to develop their skills”.

“Over 400 UNRWA teachers and education staff will be giving up their summer vacations in order to work on this. I pay tribute to them and all staff who have worked tirelessly on this project for their dedication and commitment,”  said Ging.

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