Summer Games organized by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) at 152 camp locations throughout the Gaza Strip are helping many children get over the trauma of the 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January 2009.
The camps are mostly at UNRWA schools, and each location hosts an average of 200 campers who attend for two-week sessions. The participants – children of Palestinian refugees living in Gaza – are aged 6-15.
“There is a large turnout. Over 240,000 children are participating this year,” Karen Koning AbuZayd, director of UNRWA, told IRIN from Beach Camp in Gaza City as campers splashed in the sea behind her. There are 25 beachfront camp locations.
“[The Games] give the children the opportunity to express themselves freely for the first week, and then there is more formality in the second week of the session,” said AbuZayd.
Campers engage in sports, theatre projects, arts and crafts, and cultural activities like Dabka (traditional Palestinian dance) run by 5,000 camp counsellors hired under UNRWA’s job creation programme, said UNRWA officer Stephanie Fox in Gaza.
The eight-week programme is also generating income for 500 families via the production of camp T-shirts, hats and sneakers, otherwise not available in Gaza due to border closures.
“We want to ensure those children living in the most vulnerable areas, which tend to be the border areas in the north and the east, have the opportunity to attend the camps,” said Fox. “Having the space and chance to play in a safe environment is a stress reliever.”
In Gaza’s post-conflict context there is a lack of recreational areas in which to play, and many children lost their homes during the conflict, said Fox.
Some 50,000 people in Gaza still have serious accommodation problems in the wake of the offensive, according to a recent report published by the Logistics Cluster, led by the UN World Food Programme.
About 4,000 families remain in tented accommodation, while another 4,000 are living in houses which were badly damaged by the war and are in need of urgent repair, according to the report.
The Logistics Cluster was able to bring the necessary items – such as self-assembly swimming pools, trampolines and inflatable slides – into Gaza via Israeli-controlled crossings for the UNRWA Summer Games.
Six months after the end of the Israeli offensive, most imports remain highly restricted and construction materials are normally prohibited, according to the Cluster.
The UNRWA Summer Games were first launched in summer 2007.