Fighting pressure with playing: Mitigating psychosocial pressure on Palestine Refugee Children in Gaza through after-school activities

15 May 2019
Students from the UNRWA New Khan Younis Preparatory Girls’ School, southern Gaza, cheer on their team during sporst and recreational activities of the UNICEF-funded project “Keeping Kids Cool”, implemented in 47 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip. © 2018 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

“Our life in Gaza is difficult, especially under the blockade imposed on us.  There are no recreational spaces and I always feel like we are in a prison. Through my participation in the drawing activities, I was able to express my feeling. I like painting birds flying freely in the sky and I hope, one day, I can do the same.”  These are the words of 10-year-old Hala Shamallakh, a fifth grade student from the UNRWA al-Zaitoun Preparatory Girls School ‘B’ in Gaza.

To mitigate the psychosocial pressure, poverty and environmental degradation affecting many children in Gaza as a result of the blockade and severe socio-economic conditions, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), with funding and support from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), launched an after-school sport and recreational activities programme under the title ‘Keeping Kids Cool’ (KKC).

The project aims to support the children in Gaza, to strengthen their physical, mental and emotional well-being and to build their resilience and emphasize their right to play and recreation. Through the activities, the students share wonderful moments with their friends competing in different sports, painting and drawing along with other recreational activities.

Eight-year-old Maryam Abu Sa’ada (left) makes a necklace for her sister Reema (right) as part of the “Keep Kids Cool” activities KKC held in five UNRWA health centres across the Gaza Strip. © 2018 UNRWA Photo by Mohammad Al-Hinnawi
Eight-year-old Maryam Abu Sa’ada (left) makes a necklace for her sister Reema (right) as part of the “Keep Kids Cool” activities KKC held in five UNRWA health centres across the Gaza Strip. © 2018 UNRWA Photo by Mohammad Al-Hinnawi

 

“In a heavily constrained context like Gaza where children grow up in bleak conditions, frequently surrounded by poverty and violence, such projects provide an important outlet  and opportunity for children to play and have fun together in a protective environment while also learning new skills,”  commented Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA and UNICEF are strategic partners who work closely together in implementing programmes and projects to enhance the quality education, health and well-being of the Palestine refugee children. One successful example of this cooperation is the ’Summer Fun Weeks’ which were organized by UNRWA with support from UNICEF in 2017 and provided children with an opportunity for educational, recreational and sport activities during the summer school break.

10-year-old Hala Shamallakh enjoys painting birds flying freely in the sky during a KCC activity in the UNRWA al-Zaitoun Preparatory Girls School ‘B’ in Gaza. © 2018 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan
10-year-old Hala Shamallakh enjoys painting birds flying freely in the sky during a KCC activity in the UNRWA al-Zaitoun Preparatory Girls School ‘B’ in Gaza. © 2018 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

 

The activities implemented across the Gaza Strip in 47 UNRWA schools, five health centres and the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for Visually Impaired (RCVI) along with seven community-based organisations (CBOs) benefit more than 21,000 UNRWA students from grade 1 to grade 9. The after-school activities also targeted around 350 children who were impacted by violence in the context of ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations on the Gaza side of the perimeter fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip, as well as children with chronic diseases.

“Because of the general situation in Gaza, most of us do not find a place to play sports. Meeting here after school is undoubtedly better than playing in the streets,” commented Hasan Bedair, a 9th-grade student at UNRWA Bahrain Preparatory School. © 2018
“Because of the general situation in Gaza, most of us do not find a place to play sports. Meeting here after school is undoubtedly better than playing in the streets,” commented Hasan Bedair, a 9th-grade student at UNRWA Bahrain Preparatory School. © 2018

“Our life in Gaza is difficult, especially under the blockade imposed on us.  There are no recreational spaces and I always feel like we are in a prison. Through my participation in the drawing activities, I was able to express my feeling.