UN summer camp 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In late July, thousands of children in Gaza romped into the Guinness Book of
Records for the third time. Some 7,000 simultaneously flew kites, more than
doubling the previous record they set a year ago. Just one week before, 7,203
children went to the destroyed airport in Gaza and bounced their way into the
record books by simultaneously dribbling basketballs for five minutes. Two world
records in just one week – and three in a year – is surely another world record
These events engendered iconic images that were emblazoned
across the media in Gaza, Israel, and beyond.
Here were thousands of
children, grouping together cooperatively, smiling and laughing as they worked
in rapt concentration, in an act of celebration and achievement to be number one
in the world. Here was the next generation in Gaza demonstrating to the outside
world that, given the chance, they could show their true potential, just like
children anywhere. Such symbolism will not have been lost on the millions around
the world who have become accustomed to the contrasting imagery of destitution
that usually emanates from the Gaza Strip.
THE WORLD-RECORD breakers were
part of the Gaza Summer Games organized by the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency. In nearly 150 locations across Gaza, roughly a quarter-million children
have been taking part in sporting, recreational, and cultural activities. For
the fourth successive year, thousands of UN teachers have given up their summer
holidays to allow Gaza’s children simply to have fun like children anywhere; to
have a sense of normality despite the abnormality they face in their daily
lives, owing to the bitter legacy of the fighting a year and a half
The subtext was clear for all to see. When Gaza’s children are given
the opportunity to strive to reach their full potential, their energies can be
channelled into world-class achievement; beyond kite flying and basketball
dribbling, to be full members of thriving and peaceful societies.
odds – both financial and logistical – are stacked against us and the children
of Gaza. The UNRWA has a budget shortfall for this year alone of about $100
million. In Gaza, with the restrictions on humanitarian goods we have been
unable to build any new schools for years, let alone repair old ones. Over 80%
of all schools in Gaza are “double shifted”; one physical building, but two
completely different sets of pupils and staff, class sizes are as high as fifty
children per class.
Unable to build schools for an expanding population,
we have been turning away thousands of five- and six-year-olds whose parents
want them to receive a UN education. With the much-trumpeted changes to Israel’s
blockade so far making little impact on Gaza’s battered education system, the
prospects seem bleak, with profound consequences for the next
ALL IS not lost. UNRWA remains steadfastly committed to its
human-development goals; assisting hundreds of thousands of children in one of
the world’s most unstable regions achieve their full potential, giving them a
sense of selfrespect and a belief in a peaceful and dignified future.
Gaza children are set to enter a job market beset by more than 40%
Over 3,000 businesses have gone under in the last three
years. A once-thriving export economy has been decimated. An under-educated,
under-employed population in Gaza is in no one’s interests. The economy must be
revived. Exports have to be allowed out of Gaza if the next generation is to be
gainfully employed, self-reliant, and ultimately able to create a prosperous and
The time has come for vision.
The world needs to
look to those iconic images from the UNRWA Summer Games – children being
children – as pointers to where the future could lie for the next generation in
Gaza.The writer is a senior official of the United Nations Relief and
Works Agency based in Jerusalem.