UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Safe play areas offer some relief for children caught in Gaza conflict zone

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© UNICEF video
Girls in the village of Wadi Al Saqa, Gaza, play drums at the town’s UNICEF-supported safe play centre.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 11 August 2006 – In the Palestinian village of Wadi Al Salqa, children at a playground are busy having fun with their friends, just as children do everywhere. But what may look like a perfectly ordinary scene is not so ordinary in Gaza, where children have very few places to play.

“I feel safe to play here in this playground, unlike the streets where I really don’t,” says Mohammed Abu Mghaseib, 10, who comes to the play area four times a week.

As a result of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, children have been exposed to constant violence and hardship. Many suffer from trauma.

“Children here, they live in an environment of extraordinary fear and insecurity and exhaustion,” says UNICEF Special Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory Dan Rohrmann. “So this is about the only opportunity children have to do something outside their home. Because of the security situation, parents are very reluctant to let their children go out on the street and play.”

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© UNICEF/ HQ06-1100/Jadallah
Abid Naser, 5, stands at a chain-link fence outside the ruins of his home, destroyed in recent fighting in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza.

Indoor and outdoor activities

To provide an outlet for Palestinian children, UNICEF has helped build dozens of safe play areas and distributed hundreds of recreation kits for children living in communities that are densely populated and lack recreational facilities, as well as those that are affected by violence or are very remote.

There are now 30 outdoor and 15 sheltered indoor safe play areas throughout Gaza.

With the renewed violence in the region, attendance has jumped in many of these facilities since late June. More than 100 children each day now find refuge at Wadi Al Salqa’s recreation centre.

“Since the beginning of this most recent wave of violence, we have lost 43 children in Gaza alone,” says UNICEF Communication Officer Monica Awad, noting that the organization is “protecting children’s rights and safety by providing them with safe havens to play and interact with their peers.

“This is desperately needed in Wadi Al Salqa, given the increased violence, poverty and insecurity reflected in children’s immediate environment,” she adds.

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© UNICEF video
At the safe play area in Wadi Al Salqa, children can engage in games and interact with others their own age.

Reducing the impact of violence

With its population of 4,500 people – more than half of whom are children – Wadi Al Salqa is representative of many of Gaza’s small communities. The poor farming village has only one government school catering to 1,200 children in two shifts, with morning classes for girls and afternoon classes for boys up to grade 10. Its one health clinic provides only basic services.

And poverty has increased with the violence. Because they are not allowed to travel outside Gaza, local farmers can no longer sell their fruits and vegetables, and therefore have no revenue.

Thanks to the safe play area, however, Wadi Al Salqa’s children can at least get some relief, engaging in games and interacting with other children their own age. This is extremely important, says Ms. Awad, because it reduces the impact of ongoing hostilities on children.

The recreational facilities bring children, if for just a few hours, a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to release their stress.


 

 

Video

11 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the Wadi Al Salqa safe play area for children affected by ongoing violence in Gaza.
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