Gazan children enjoy a rare safe play area for the summer
Gaza, 22 July 2011 - Fourteen-year-old Sondos Bedawi from Zeytoun is rushing with joy and pride through the corridors of Ali Bin Abi Taleb government school. She as just finished an Arabic language session, moving on to the mathematics session where the facilitator has already laid out the special “maths kit” which they will be using for geometry. What is strange, though, is that Sondos looks very excited, even though summer holidays have just begun.
Summer math can be fun!
This is not the usual classroom that Palestinian students are used to. Adolescents of different ages are fully engaged and handed shapes, papers and scissors to put the mathematics lesson into practice. “This is not a normal class,” Sondos confirms. “We have fun learning and catching up on the things we might not be very good at in school, and we play different games. We also have sports and art sessions.”
Sondos is one of 150 adolescents benefiting from adolescent-friendly spaces (AFS) recently launched in two Gazan schools, supported by UNICEF and implemented by Ma’an Development Centre and Tamer Institute, with funding from Italian and Dutch National Committees for UNICEF. The AFS provide adolescents with the opportunity to improve their skills and learn new ones, and it empowers young people to think critically.
No safe place to play
More than half of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza, are children below the age of 18. The vast majority of them, if not all, do not have access to safe spaces to learn, interact with their peers and play sports. Many children are used to wandering aimlessly on the street, exposing themselves to traffic accidents. Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy was killed while playing football and six children were seriously injured after an Israeli shell landed in a densely populated area. The AFS offer adolescents a safe alternative where they can learn and have fun.
Moreover, in a conservative society where girls are expected to stay at home, the AFS enable many of them to escape boredom and spend time productively out of their homes. Parents let their daughters attend sessions at the AFS knowing they will safely learn new skills that are critical for their development. Girls say they also have a lot of fun.
Girls want to learn and have fun
“Many of the adolescents here are from Zeytoun neighborhood,” says school director Huda Salah Al Najjar. “It is a poor area, and it has gone poorer due to the blockade and movement restrictions on Gaza.” At least now, boys and girls have a place where they can go three times a week while feeling safe, forgetting about difficulties at home and spending time productively.
Ruba Abu Daff, one of Ma’an Development Centre’s life skills facilitators, testifies that adolescents are learning many new skills including communication and negotiation skills, which empower them and strengthen their self-confidence with their family, their peers and their teachers.
“I have finally started talking to my parents,” says 16-year old Ranya Al Hajeen. “I never talked at home, always worried and keeping everything to myself. But I found out how important it is to express myself, and now I am confident enough to speak out.”
School director Al Najjar says all sessions offered within the AFS are participatory and allow adolescents to engage fully: “We use practical examples, role playing and games so that adolescents can see that they are learning something useful, which they can use in their daily lives while having fun in the process”.