|© UNICEF video|
|Disadvantaged Palestinian children get a chance to enjoy some of the normal joy of childhood with help from UNICEF, the YMCA and the European Commission.|
By Monica Awad
QALQILYA, West Bank, 28 April 2008 – Laughter fills the playground as more than 100 children with disabilities anxiously await their first visit to the only zoo in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“I want to see the monkey and try to feed him bananas,” said Ala’, 8, using sign language. Ala’, like many children with disabilities, has limited opportunities for play, and she has never been to a zoo before.
“I like the giraffe and the lion. They are proud and strong animals,” said Ayman, 12, also using sign language.
UNICEF supports the YMCA in arranging outings for Palestinian children in need. Funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, these activities aim to restore childhood to the most disadvantaged children.
|© UNICEF video|
|Barrier cuts the city of Qalqilya off from the outside world and contributes to the stress faced by children.|
Qalqilya under closure
The YMCA stages activities that many other children take for granted: potato-sack races, tug of war, face painting, balloons and colouring.
“I like the balloon game the most and my favourite colour is blue,” said Ayman. With a cheerful expression, he continued: “When I pop the balloon, I am very happy.”
The 91,000 people living in Qalqilya are encircled by a barrier that separates residents from their land and basic services, with access dependent on a restricted gate and permits. The situation is reportedly contributing to a worsening economy. Unemployment is rising, and more than 30 per cent of businesses have closed. Sixty-one per cent of Qalqilya’s residents live below the poverty line.
Children under stress
“Children in Qalqilya are more stressed than children in other areas of the West Bank due to the negative impact of the barrier and the ongoing Israeli military-imposed curfews,” said YMCA Psychosocial Coordinator Rami Assaf.
Education has suffered, as well. In February, six schools in Qalqilya were closed for a three days because of a curfew.
“Through concerted efforts in psychosocial support to children, we can restore normalcy to an abnormal life,” said Mr. Assaf.
UNICEF and the EU