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

“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 feelings. 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.

“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.

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.