UNICEF Brings Volleyball to Children in the Gaza Strip
© UNICEF-OPT/2004/Sami Abu Salem
Aysha Dawwas, 14, has embraced sports programmes
By Sami Abu Salem
GAZA, 6 December 2004 - “Haaaay, Yaaaaa. Aysha, Aysha, Aysha. We are the winners.” Accompanied by joyous clapping, several girls shouted these slogans at the Al-Shayma Preparatory School in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Lahia.
Dressed-in-blue uniforms, the girls packed the spaces between the little green palm trees in the school. The cheers almost drowned out the whistling of the referee/trainer, Rihab Al-Baz, who was monitoring their performance and providing directions.
The teams were involved in a volleyball game – part of the training component under Sports for Development programme supported by UNICEF in Gaza and the West Bank, with the support of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).
Following the exercise, Al-Baz gathered the tired girls, whose uniforms got wet from the rain, in the middle of the playground and provided them with some new rules, directions and pointed out to some of their mistakes.
Fourteen-year-old competitor Aysha Dawwas expressed her delight at being able to play: “I am a member at the volleyball team. I also practice ping-pong and basket ball. My favorite hobby is painting, but practicing sport has a special importance because we (the females) have no opportunity to practice it at home.”
“When I was younger, I used to play on the beach with my brothers and neighbours. But now, being a little bit older, my parents do not allow me to play as before. I can not play out side home. I just play at school. Unfortunately we have no opportunities to play like boys,” Aysha said.
A big smile appeared when asked of the benefits of the programme. “I become much taller because of exercises… we also had a good idea about the rules and laws of the games, it is a novel knowledge.”
Aysha affirmed that joining the team had a good influence on her studies as the atmosphere of competition is reinforced.
“Actually, there is a positive competition between girls in gaining the highest level of marks, and in the same way, there is competition in sport activities," she said, "basically parents object me participating in sports activities. But they did not object to participation in the UNICEF programme because of several reasons; it does not affect my study, and because I practice it in a safe place (school).”
The support of Aysha’s parents helped to strengthen their relationship with Aysha. Every day she discusses sports with her parents. "I mean there is some thing new to talk about; I have the chance to spend more time with them than before.”
The UNICEF programme widened the horizon of the social life of Aysha as well as developing new skills such as the team work.
She said that during theoretical lessons and exercises she meets new girls and make new friends. “We also developed our skill of the team work through coordination and cooperation as well as how to get benefit from the other’s mistakes.”
Trainer Al-Baz said that the UNICEF’s “Sport for Development” programme includes theoretical training and practical exercises, including championships between schools.
“The students attend lectures on rules and laws of games as well as on the rights of children and several other enlightening lectures on sport and other subjects,” she said.
“Actually the students are so eager to join the teams of different games, volleyball, ping-pong, and basketball,” Al-Baz added, "They have a chance to expend some energy. You know? The girls who do not have any opportunity to participate in the activities feel angry and sorry.”
“Through implementing this programme, I think we can discover the talented students in sport. I also think that such an opportunity helps us discover the champions of sport in future, it is really interesting.”
Regarding its effect on the female students, I think that it helps them on the psychological aspect, they have a golden opportunity to practice sport and to find an enjoyable time especially in such conservative and difficult situation in the Gaza Strip.”
She added that the school accepts the student to join any team just after coordination with the parents of the student. “We invite all parents of the involved students and clarify to them some details on the UNICEF's project and its benefit. Hence, we also guarantee their agreement that their children will participate without restrictions,” Al-Baz said.
"I deeply thank the UNICEF for such unique programme and hope them to support the students with more activities and provide them with more tools."
The headmistress of the school, Mariam Abu Saif, said that the UNICEF's programme is a unique opportunity for the girls to practice some exercises they don’t have in society.
"Unfortunately, there are neither governmental nor nongovernmental institutions which care in sport for females. Thus this programme is the only refuge for the girls," Abu Saif said, "Through the UNICEF's programme, the girls got benefit not only on sport field but they got new educational and sport knowledge."
Her father, Mohammed Dawwas, 61, who has just retired after working as a teacher, said that he was so pleased to hear about the UNICEF's project of “Sport for Development”.
“The fact is that sport in Beit Lahya is absent, especially for the girls. My sweet girl Aysha has no opportunity to practice any kind of sport, when I was informed of the UNICEF’s project I was really pleased,” the father of seven, said while looking at the nearby Israeli military post.
“I can not hide the good influence of the UNICEF’s programme on the social behavior of Aysha. I believe that her participation in the exercises of the programme strengthened her personality. She has more self-confidence. She began not to pay attention to what the people will say about a girl participates in a sport team,” the father said.
"In addition, her trends and relations with us were also positively affected. She began to be careful in the problems of others. She has more time to talk with us than before, I wonder, she also talks about the daily expenditure of our family".
Through its continued support to the Palestinian children in the occupied Palestinian territory, the UNICEF carries out the Sports for Development programme in many locations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The programme for volleyball includes training workshops (two workshops per district) which started on 20 November 2004 and continues until the end of December. Participants include 256 teachers and coaches (128 females) from 172 schools and 42 youth clubs.
Two volleyball teams have been established at each of the 172 schools: one team composed of children whose age range between 12-15 years and the second team for the age group 16-18 years. The last day of each workshop includes an event where joint volleyball games will take place between adolescents and the teachers of coaches who participated in the training.
Supplies were delivered to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) and the Palestinian Volleyball Federation.
It is estimated that number of adolescents participating in the volleyball teams will reach to at least 4130, and the number of all children benefiting from the volleyball supplies will reach to 91,200 children.