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Palestine: The children who forgot how to have fun

The situation in the Gaza Strip has affected every aspect of life, and every age group. Blogger Samaher Al Khazandar describes the difficulties a kindergarten had when trying to hold a party at the end of the school year.

Samaher says:

في الأوضاع العادية تقوم رياض الأطفال بتنظيم حفل ختامي لسنة طويلة من اللعب وتلقي الأساسيات التمهيدية للدخول في عام دارسي مدرسي قادم. لكن هذا العام لم تكن الأوضاع عادية ولم تستطع الكثير من الروضات تنظيم الحفل لأن الكثير من الأهالي لم يتمكنوا من دفع عدد من الدفعات الشهرية المستحقة لرياض الأطفال. ولأن الروضة كمشروع ربحي في معظم الأحيان تكون قد خرجت بخسارة كبيرة، تحجم عن خسارة جديدة بتحمل نفقات الحفل ولو كانت بسيطة.
In normal circumstances, kindergartens organise a party to mark the end of a long year of playing, and of learning the basics which will help pupils in their first school year. But this year’s circumstances were not normal, and many kindergartens could not organise a party because many people were not able to pay some of the monthly payments due to the kindergartens. And since kindergartens are mostly commercial enterprises, they have undergone large losses, so are reluctant to bear more by paying for a party, however simple.

She explains how one proprietor was persuaded that the children needed a party:

ومن بين هذه الروضات على سبيل المثال روضة خالد بن الوليد الإسلامية، التي حتى يومين قبل الحفل لم تكن لديها نية في تنظيمه، تقول السيدة / مريم أبو الخير، مالكة الروضة … تقول أن عدداً كبيراً من الأهالي لم يتمكنوا من دفع الرسوم المستحقة على أبنائهم للروضة، وأنها لم تكن تنوي أن تقيم الحفل بسبب الضائقة الاقتصادية وصعوبات المواصلات وحالة الإحباط العام الذي يعاني منه الجميع، لكن وبعد أن تلقت مكالمات هاتفية من بعض الأمهات، تعاطفت مع مطلبهن بإسعاد الأطفال بوقت من المرح الذي حرموا منه طويلاً. وأجرت اتصالات مع بعض معارفها، الذين تكرموا بالمساهمة في شراء لوازم لحفل ترفيهي متواضع لأطفال الروضة.
An example of such a kindergarten is the Khalid bin Al Waleed Islamic Kindergarten, which up until two days before its party had no intention of holding one, according to Mariam Abu Alkhair, the proprietor. … She says that many people were not able to pay the fees owed the kindergarten for their children, and that she hadn’t intended to hold a celebration because of economic hardship and transportation difficulties, and the general state of depression suffered by all. However, after receiving telephone calls from some mothers, she sympathised with their request to give the children the fun they had been denied for a long time. She contacted various people she knew who kindly contributed in buying everything necessary for a modest party for the kindergarten children.
حين وصلت في يوم الحفل فوجئت بالحضور الكبير للأمهات، ووجدت السيدة مريم ومساعدتها سوزان (وهي مدرسة في الروضة والمساعدة الأساسية للسيدة مريم) تقومان بالاستقبال الشخصي للأهالي وكانت الأولى في حالة توتر كبير، سألت مساعدتها ما بها فأجابت ضاحكة: “الفرقة تأخرت .. السكر ارتفع وكمان شوي بيجيها ضغط” ابتسمت للدعابة ودهشت لسماع موضوع الفرقة. المهم وبعد انتظار تبادلت فيه الأمهات كل أنواع الشكاوى من مصاعب الحياة ومصائبها، وصلت فرقة باص الألعاب التابعة لمركز الإرشاد التربوي في جباليا، وبدأ العاملين فيها بتحضير المسرح وتحضير الأطفال للتفاعل معهم. تابعت الأمهات الإعدادات السريعة بفضول، في حين قام أحد أفراد الفرقة بتشغيل أنشودة من تلك الأناشيد المشهورة من قناة طيور الجنة، ذات الشعبية الكبيرة في فلسطين. بدأ الأطفال يتابعون بحذر ذلك الشاب الذي بدأ يتقافز على لحن الأغنية ويمثل حركاتها بطريقة طفولية مضحكة. كان من الواضح أن الشاب مدرب وكان يقوم بعمله بتلقائية ومرح ومع ذلك كانت استجابة الأطفال بطيئة.
When I arrived on the day of the party I was surprised by the large audience of mothers, and found Mariam and Suzanne (who is a teacher in the kindergarten, and Mariam’s main assistant) personally welcoming people. Mariam was in a really stressed state. When I asked her assistant what was wrong with her, she answered, laughing, ‘The performance group is late… Her blood sugar level has gone up, and soon her blood pressure will rise too.’ I smiled at the joke, but was surprised to hear about the group. Anyway, after a wait during which the mothers exchanged all kinds of complaints about the difficulties of life and their misfortunes, the group arrived, ‘The Playbus’ from the Centre for Educational Guidance in Jabaliya [refugee camp to the north of Gaza City]. The group members started preparing the performance, and getting the children ready to interact with them. The mothers followed the rapid preparations with curiosity. In the meantime one member of the group put on a well-known song from the ‘Birds of Paradise’ children's channel which is really popular in Palestine. The children cautiously began to follow this young man, who had started to jump to the tune and make funny, childlike movements. It was clear that the young man was practised at this, and was doing it spontaneously and joyfully; nevertheless, the children responded slowly.

Clowns at a Gaza kindergarten party

شعرت باستياء كبير لفتور الأطفال، وحذرهم الشديد، ونظرتهم المتخوفة؛ كأنهم لا يصدقوا أن هناك من يريد أن يشاركهم أوقات من المرح؛ أو أنهم خائفين منه (أي المرح) لأنه أصبح غريباً عليهم. بدأت فقرات الحفل برقصة للدمى وأيضاً لم يتجاوب الأطفال معها بل إن بعضهم بدأ بالبكاء بمجرد دخولها. وهنا بدأت الأمهات تتعامل بعاطفية وانفعال وهن يحاولن أن يقنعن أطفالهن بأن هؤلاء مجرد دمى جميلة مثل تلك التي يروها ويحبوها في الرسوم المتحركة، حتى أن بعض الأمهات جذبت أبنائهن لحلبة الرقص لتشجعهم وتقنعهم بأن هؤلاء دمى وليسوا وحوش. وبعد جهد جهيد بدأ عدد كبير من الأطفال بالاندماج خاصة عندما جاءت فقرة لعبة الكراسي الموسيقية.
I felt great frustration at the listlessness and wariness of the children, and their fearful looks; it was if they didn’t believe that there was someone who wanted to have fun with them, or as if they were scared of having fun because it was alien to them. The performance began, but the children still failed to respond, and some even started to cry when the group members entered dressed in costumes. At this point some of the mothers started getting emotional and excited as they tried to convince their children that these were just beautiful characters like those they saw and loved in cartoons. Some of the mothers even pulled their children up to dance, encouraging them and persuading them that they were nice characters and not monsters. After many efforts were made, a lot of the children joined in, especially when the game of musical chairs started.
بدت لي محاولات الأمهات دمج أبنائهن في جو المرح واللعب مؤثرة جداً، شعرت بالمأساة التي نعيشها ونقبل عليها كأمهات لكن الأطفال، بعد جهد ملحوظ من أعضاء الفرقة، اندمجوا بالجو وبدأوا بالتفاعل والمشاركة في الرقص والغناء والتقافز والضحك.
The attempts of the mothers to involve their children in the fun and games were very touching to me. I felt the tragedy which we must live and accept as mothers; but the children, after notable effort from the members of the group, joined in and started to interact and participate in the dancing, singing, jumping and laughing.

2 comments

  • […] thousands of miles away, here is a blog post on a group of Palestinian kindergartners who struggle learning to just be kids and have a little […]

  • Hephzibah

    I, too, am a thousand miles away, but not in my heart or soul. I am a mother who has taken her children through years of trauma, instability and the wariness of new people, places and change. Children are resilient. I have heard the mantra. I know the look of disappointment and the feelings of the mother who is looking on and hoping, just wishing her child will connect. My son, for a short period was in an all boys school, underfunded, but well loved. It was his “safe place”. When we (I volunteered) worked on plays and had barbeques to see not just my own son, but other boys with that same look, that same feel brought me so much sadness and despair. When will it stop. No mother wants her child to go through guns and shootings (right by our house) or no power, food, and the instability. I like to see them, just for 30 minutes free, laughing, and happy. I could have my son, a child from Chicago and a group of Palestinian kids and African kids and given enough air to breathe they could be free. All of these boys, girls would connect and interact as if they had known each other all their lives. And they would never forget one another. I know, I have seen and I have witnessed. Allah fills our garden with delight.
    What will we do with the fruit?

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