Picture this: a beach of sandy white, blue-green waters with foam flecking the surface. Children laughing, flying kites, playing soccer, and swimming through the crashing waves. Along the shore there are giant slides, bouncy castles, and ping-pong tables. Where does your mind take you? To a picturesque day at the New Jersey shore? Or maybe to a carnival on a Florida beachscape?
The scene I am describing actually exists in an area normally torn with pain and hardship—Gaza. However, a UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has made great strides in creating an environment that attempts to bring stability to the residents of Palestine and the Gaza Strip. Specifically, this group provides education, health, relief, and social services to eligible Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, and the West Bank. Since 2007, they have organized unique summer games for the children to attend, which consist of a total of 1,200 camps, running from June 12th to August 5th.
Last year, the games drew around 250,000 children, located at 25 different beaches along the Gaza coast, where kids received swimming lessons, played various sports, and created arts and crafts. The UNRWA also connected with community based organizations to bring mural-painting, inflatable slides, bouncy castles, swimming pools, dancing, kite making and more. The activities extended into hospitals and orphanages where the UNRWA provided puppet and theater shows, clowns, and cartoons.
The summer games have transformed many of the children. One parent remarks on the necessity of the program:
“This event is so necessary; I mean, the situation being what it is here, children and families really need a break and more of these activities. The kids see so much, and they understand the situation and the suffering of their parents. So these kinds of activities really help them psychologically and encourage their talents. As you can see, here the kids can play, and laugh, and be happy…and we’re happy for them.”
Hopefully, the games will continue to run for years to come. There has been much support so far. The European Union recently donated 2 million Euros to support the camps. The programming truly makes a difference in the lives of the Palestinian youth.
Want to see more? Check out the UNRWA picture gallery.