The United Nations is inaugurating the first ever summer games in the Gaza Strip for tens of thousands of children under age 18. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says the program, which begins Saturday, will provide educational and creative activities for Palestinian youth during the long summer months. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.
The UNRWA says there is little or nothing for young people in Gaza to do during the summer school break. UNRWA spokesman Matthias Burchard says the young people get bored. Some, he says, get into trouble.
Burchard says the summer games will allow Palestinian youth to vent their frustrations and direct their energies toward meaningful activities.
"It is the first time that such an activity is launched throughout the Strip for the whole summer holiday, giving the youth people a space to express themselves in a positive and productive manner," he said. "Most of UNRWA's 187 schools and several community centers will provide a series of education and entertaining activities, such as mural painting, arts, crafts, kite festivals, theater, drama, environmental activities and sports."
UNRWA provides basic education, health care, social services and humanitarian relief to more than 1 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. The refugees comprise 72 percent of the population in Gaza. Children make up half that total.
The United Nations says 88 percent of the refugees live below the poverty line and have no means of survival other than international assistance.
Burchard says 192,000 young people have signed up for this unprecedented program. He says all activities are free of charge. Besides the creative and social activities, he says many of the young Palestinians will be able to catch up on some of the schooling they missed because of the instability in the Territory.
"During these 10 weeks, remedial education for math and Arabic for 50,000 pupils will be offered in order to allow them to reverse the decline in the quality of education in the Gaza Strip," he added. "These students will join the summer games after the classes. The activities are carried out, in part, by UNRWA teachers and carefully selected specialists from local NGOs."
UNRWA is working with seven expert local organizations. Burchard says the high impact, high quality activities will be carried out by about 2,000 staff members. He says the specialists are well respected and free from political affiliation.
Burchard says the program has the enthusiastic and unwavering support of the parents. He adds the summer games have been designed against all odds and despite the volatile situation in Gaza.