New Safe Play Areas for Worst Affected Kids in Gaza
GAZA, 10 July 2005 - Every day, without fail, eleven-year-old Maysoon Yousef abu Mudeer arrives two hours before activities at the Wadi Selga safe play area commence.
She says it’s better to attend the activities than while away the summer months at home with her six sisters and five brothers. Like many men in the predominantly agricultural area her father is without work.
Located in the mid-section of the Gaza Strip, Wadi Selga is one of several alternative play areas set up with assistance from UNICEF and with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
In all, 15 Alternative Safe Play Areas are being established in Gaza and the West Bank, of which four are already active. Animators and volunteers from each community are trained to ensure the provision of regular activities in each of the sites.
The play areas are typically established in existing facilities, such as youth clubs, schools and community centers. Police and local officials are called in to approve the location before activities commence. Activities include: sports games, singing, face painting, arts and the learning of positive messages.
Aside from some cash assistance, UNICEF supports the purchasing of supplies, the training of facilitators and undertakes monitoring and evaluation.
The intent is to give children alternative places to play and learn, with a view towards keeping them away from dangerous areas where they could be exposed to live fire or unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Indeed Maysoon is one of the several hundred children in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) who have been injured by unexploded devices. She shyly displays the shrapnel scars from a device which exploded in her hands more than a month ago. Her face seems to bear invisible scars, perhaps from a close brush with death – or perhaps from growing up in the midst of an ongoing conflict.
Surrounded by three nearby Israeli settlements and a heavy military presence, the 8,000 residents in Wadi Selga often find themselves in the line of fire. The administrators of the play area say they are prepared for an increase in the number of child injuries as the date for the mid-August deadline for the evacuation of the settlements approaches. “In such an environment it is tough for kids to avoid UXO injuries,” said director Khaled abu Mara Gasib.
Despite the onerous challenges they face on a daily basis – poverty, unemployment, the constant threat of live fire - the kids attending the Wadi Selga play area are luckier that their peers in many other areas: the facility includes a spacious open field for outdoor activities.
About 45-minutes drive to the south, at another UNICEF-supported alternative safe play area, several dozen girls are engaged in face painting in the border town of Rafah. A Mickey Mouse painting on the building wall that has been pockmarked with bullets reminds visitors of how close the conflict has come towards these children. Many have seen their houses demolished or know of at least one friend or relative who has been killed or injured.
Says Delia Jenem, 12, one of the play area participants: “I got fed up with sitting at home face to face everyday with my family.”
Adds Islam abu-Ateur, 10: “I before I had to play at home. Now we have the chance to do drawing, painting and go on short field trips.”