“I won’t lie to you, I wasn’t that excited about the project when it first started, I mean it’s a great project but I kept thinking that other locations than Khuza’a could be more of a priority,” Wafaa El-Derawi, our Gaza Projects Assistant, shares with us when asked about the latest updates with building the playground in Khuza’a. Then she went to the area herself and had conversations with the children and realized how important this playground is.
Khuza’a village is located in the south of the Gaza Strip with a population of approximately 11,000 Palestinians. It’s considered to be one of the border areas where its lands go further into the 1948 area and it’s very close to the militarized fence surrounding Gaza that was built by the Israeli occupation. Khuza’a as a Gazan neighborhood became well-known after a horrendous massacre that took place during the 2014 aggression on the Gaza Strip. It was bombed heavily by Israeli machinery and military causing dozens of deaths, complete destruction of infrastructures and buildings, including schools, clinics, homes and more. The Israeli soldiers also denied access to ambulances to attend to those who were injured under the piles of destroyed buildings and rubble, causing their imminent deaths. Days after the massacre when access by medics was permitted, bodies of entire families were found under the piles of destruction.
Yet Wafaa’s initial lack of excitement was not for this particular reason of course, as Wafaa further explains, “Thankfully, most of the destroyed buildings were rebuilt, at least the basics that is; schools, homes, clinics and roads. And this area is agricultural where most of the people there are farmers. So I thought children here already have good space to play, enjoy the fresh air, and relieve some stress. But I was wrong.” A few days after finally finding a good location for the playground and starting fencing the area and adding a simple sand pit, Wafaa realized how important this project was for the children specifically and the area as a whole.
“Soon after building the fence of the playground and adding sand, children – boys and girls – started gathering in the unfinished playground, and this surprised me. They started coming to the spot almost daily to play together and spend time there just hanging out basically. So naturally I spoke with them and asked why is it that they’re excited about this playground? Don’t they already play in their agricultural lands? To my surprise the answer was no.”
Most of the nearby agricultural lands are designated for work only, and additionally, they are still being harassed by the Israeli military. Between helicopters always roaming the area, sounds of bombings and shootings, and the spraying of pesticides along the border reaching into their farming lands; their families keep their children out of the agricultural areas.
“After having these different conversations with the kids, I’ve realized that in reality they do not have any space to play and be children. We’ve spoken of rebuilding Khuza’a after the massacre and massive destruction that took place, but it was only for the basics. It did not include spaces for the children like playgrounds or children’s centers. One of our partners informed us that technically this is the first playground in Khuza’a following the 2014 events, and that’s when I realized this is HUGE!”
This project is being implemented on the ground through our partners Bait Al-Mustaqbal Association and was fundraised for through the amazing the Big Ride for Palestine group, which was established back in 2015 by a group of cyclists who cycle to fundraise, raise awareness, and support Palestine.
Wafaa also pointed out that this space will be used to organize activities for the children, including psychosocial support, sports activities for both boys and girls, and simply some fun and educational activities for the kids and their families. “The last physically violent attack on Khuza’a might have been in 2014, but the psychological ramifications of it still remain until this very day,” Wafa continues, “we can see it clearly with the violent language the kids are using with each other, even the types of games they’re playing and how they communicate and deal with each other. One playground will not solve the issue, but it’s a place to start.”
We, alongside Wafaa and our partners, are aware that open safe space for children won’t resolve years of being subjected to different forms of violence, whether physical or emotional, but now more than ever Gaza needs these spaces for both the children and their families to simply be. To have a fun day under sun, to take a spin on bicycles around the playground, to talk and vent, and to learn from one another.
Finally Wafaa shared, “on a personal level, I’m becoming more and more aware of the importance of such spaces as my niece is turning two and we need to have nice spots to take her out to where she could meet new people and play with kids. Spaces for children and their families are scarce in the Gaza Strip; not just in Khuza’a.” MECA is already scouting locations for our next large park and playground in Rafah in partnership with the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and preparing to support a new playground for children in Kufr Aqab in partnership with Riwaq – Centre for Architectural Conservation to give more Palestinian children save places to play. You can make a donation to help us build more playgrounds!