Gazan Children Participate in UNRWA Summer Camps

Gazan Children Participate in UNRWA Summer Camps

130,000 Palestinian Children in Gaza Participate in UNRWA Summer Camps

Today (Sunday), 130,000 Palestinian children from the Gaza Strip took part in summer camps organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). These camps aim to help alleviate the psychological impact of the successive Israeli wars.

The summer camps, which began approximately two months after a period of escalation between the Islamic Jihad movement and Israel, are being held in 91 UNRWA schools across the coastal Gaza Strip, home to over two million people.

On May 9th, a military tension erupted between the Israeli army and the Islamic Jihad movement, lasting for five days, following sudden Israeli airstrikes on the Strip that killed three top military leaders of the movement. As a result, the Joint Military Operations Room, affiliated with Palestinian factions, exchanged fire with the Israeli army, resulting in the killing of one Israeli and 33 Palestinians, including 11 leaders and members of the Islamic Jihad, according to official statistics.

After complex and intensive negotiations during the military tension, Egypt succeeded in brokering a ceasefire between the Islamic Jihad delegation, which was present in Cairo at the time, and Israel, to avoid further human and material losses on both sides.

Thomas White, the Director of Operations for UNRWA in Gaza, emphasized the importance of engaging children in physical activities. He stated during the launch ceremony of the current Fun Weeks at an UNRWA school in Jabalia refugee camp, "It is important for children in Gaza to engage in physical activities that help them overcome their internal negative energies and enable them to overcome the recent tensions they have experienced."

White further added, "UNRWA is facing a real funding shortfall, but we insist on continuing our programs aimed at mitigating the psychological impact on children and preparing them for the upcoming academic year in two months."

The summer camps are scheduled to last for four weeks and include various sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, as well as recreational activities like drawing and handicrafts, according to camp director Essam Ashlefouh.

Ashlefouh stated to Xinhua news agency that the number of children participating in the summer activities increases each year, indicating that the population in the Gaza Strip still suffers from psychological issues, both among children and adults.

He added, "The summer camps allow children to meet each other, helping them to be more social and develop their own personalities based on their habits, aspirations, and abilities."

The joy was evident on the face of 13-year-old Samar Abu Al-Khair after joining the summer camp at her school. She expressed, "I am extremely happy to spend more time with my classmates in school and play with them."

The young girl, wearing a white shirt and a white cap to protect her from the sun's rays, stated that the summer fun activities come after a long year of studying accompanied by psychological pressure, as well as the Israeli bombardment they have experienced.

Rawan Al-Haddad, another child, had a similar sentiment to her friend Abu Al-Khair, explaining to Xinhua, "Engaging in sports and various activities within the summer camps helps participants gain self-confidence and develop their talents."

She said, "Here in the camp, I can freely showcase my talent in drawing, where I can share my experience with younger students, and together we can create more beautiful paintings on the walls of our school."

According to psychological experts in the Gaza Strip, there is a need for weekly sports, psychological, and cultural activities for children in the region, which has been under the control of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) since 2007, as it is one of the areas most affected by political and economic instability.

Iyad Zakout, the Head of UNRWA's Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Unit in Gaza, stated, "The agency's main responsibility is to provide a safe environment for its students, helping them to engage in society through play and spend more time enjoying themselves."

Zakout emphasized the importance of allowing refugee children to exercise their fundamental rights to live, learn, and play in a safe and stimulating environment, just like all children worldwide.

At least 35% of Palestinian students suffer from psychological reactions related to trauma, especially after each Israeli-Palestinian military escalation in the besieged coastal enclave, according to a study conducted by the United Nations agency in August 2022.

The summer camps, taking place in an economically challenging environment due to the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, provide 2,750 temporary job opportunities for both male and female graduates in the fields of psychological support and health education, according to the organizers.