9 July 2009, Gaza
UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd welcomed to her office a group of Gazan youth that had recently returned from a three-week recreational tour to Poland. The trip, organized by the Polish government, provided children especially affected by the recent hostilities in Gaza with medical and psychological services, as well as an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves in a peaceful atmosphere.
73 children participated in the trip, at the invitation of Polish President Lech Kaczynski. The Polish Representative to the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Office in Ramallah worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Gaza to identify children who were especially in need. The youths spent one week in Warsaw undergoing psychological and medical treatment, and spent the remaining two weeks touring Poland, including visits to castles, a water park, a zoo, and a cinema. “They were all so happy and cheerful,” AbuZayd said. “They competed with each other to tell me stories of what they had done on their trip. One of them told me that the day he got on the plane to Warsaw was the best day of his life.”
Several of the trip participants in particular left a special mark on AbuZayd. The group asked to see pictures of AbuZayd’s own children, and as she led them into her office, Ahmed Abu Alouf, 9, noticed a photo of AbuZayd with UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. He immediately recognized Mr. Ban and became very excited that he was speaking to someone who had actually met the Secretary General. A group of other students followed to examine the picture. Three cousins in the meeting, Mahmoud, Shaaban and Mona Samouni, ages 12, 12, and 11, respectively, lost 48 members of their extended family during the recent hostilities.
The children’s visit attracted much attention in Poland. The Polish First Lady, Maria Kaczynski, invited the group to the presidential palace for a reception. “I think it was the first time that anyone ever danced debkeh (a traditional Palestinian folk dance) in the presidential residence,” said Pitor Puchta, Poland’s representative to the PA. AbuZayd recently visited Poland herself, where she heard of the trip’s success first hand. “Everyone in the government talked to me about how excited, how kind and how polite the children were,” she said.
Both UNRWA and the government of Poland are working to build on the trip’s successes. To solidify the bonds that participants built during their trip abroad, UNRWA has created a special program to reunite participants of the Poland trip as part of its annual Gaza Summer Games.
The Polish government, for its part, has invited another group of children from the Nablus area of the West Bank to Poland for a cultural and recreational trip and hopes to continue such contacts in the coming years. The Gaza-based Polish-Palestinian Friendship Association is maintaining contact with trip participants, particularly those that had medical procedures while in Warsaw.