23 June 2011
Fifteen-year-old Nahil and her friends laugh loudly as they play with a beachball in the shallow water. Despite living in Deir el-Balah, on Gaza’s coast, Nahil has never been to the beach before. “I’m so happy to finally see it,” she says, “I was always too unwell to visit the sea, but now I can come to Summer Games with my friends.”
Nahil suffers from a rare condition that makes her acutely vulnerable to electric shocks, making swimming dangerous. But after treatment this summer, she is able to fulfil her life-long dream of heading to the beach.
Nahil is just one of thousands of kids in Gaza enjoying a summer of fun activities at UNRWA’s fifth annual Summer Games – and getting some much-needed relief from the pressures of living in the blockaded Strip.
More than half of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are children, whose lives have been dominated by conflict and poverty. Years of destruction and deprivation have left few spaces for them to play or be creative, particularly during the long, hot summer months.
For these often-traumatised children, the centres UNRWA has set up along Gaza’s shore, complete with bouncy castles, slides and swimming pools, are a chance to experience some of the pleasures of a ‘normal’ childhood.
This year’s Games began on Saturday, and over the next five weeks, 250,000 children will spend their days splashing, hula-hooping and making new friends.
This is fourth-grader Majd Abu Khater’s first Games. “I already want to register for next year,” she says. “Without Summer Games, I’d spend all summer at home, and not do anything.”
Modallah Looz, a Games coordinator for northern Gaza, says the activities are “very important for girls, in particular, because they aren’t usually allowed to play in the street. At Summer Games they’re able to just go and play.
“It is very, very good for the kids. It lets them release their stress and negative emotions.”
“I love the activity leaders because they let me play as much as I like. They protect me,” says ten-year-old Nagham Hijazi, before running back to the sea to rejoin her new friends.
Summer Games runs in three cycles of two weeks each. Children take part in a range of activities – at the beach or in schools - including swimming, painting and dancing. Each cycle ends with a festival where the children display their new skills, and attempt to break a Guinness world record.
More about UNRWA in Gaza