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Oases in the Desert

Playgrounds in the Holy Land offer green grass and relaxation to children and adults alike.

by Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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In a land too-long associated with destruction and death, bullets and shelling, a new type of project stands out for its unique nature and special healing abilities: a playground.

The primary victims of adult-created conflict are always children, and the children of Israel and Palestine are no exception. The escalation of violence since September 2000 has not only claimed children among its wounded and dead; it has also tragically impacted their lives, virtually destroying “normal” activities such as sports and playtime. The disappearance of youngsters’ opportunity for play, especially in open, public areas, is just part of the “collateral damage” of the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land.

Several generations of children in the Holy Land have grown up without the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of play, and they have never seen a real playground. But now that has changed. Playgrounds are up and running in conflict-scarred Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza. These three new playgrounds have become a dream come true all because one woman from New York visited the area and quietly observed, “But the children have no place to play.”

Determined to remedy the situation, Marie Doty and her husband, George, decided to provide CNEWA with the funds to build and equip playgrounds and related facilities in all three municipalities.

“Sometimes we are asked, ‘Why do you build parks when there is such a great need for hospitals, schools – the basics of life?’ “ says Mill Hill Missionary Father Guido Gockel, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel.

“My response is, ‘People have a soul, and the soul needs to be fed with beauty. The spirit in them needs to play in order to find joy. And joy, in turn, feeds their hope.’

“In a situation like this,” he continues, “where there is so little hope, so little joy and almost no play, this aspect of development is so important. A playground may not seem like a necessity of life, but it is a necessity for the spirit, the spirit that needs to find joy and peace.”

Both joy and peace have been in tragically short supply in the Holy Land for many years now. Since 1993, the systematic construction and encroachment of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories have meant land confiscations, destroyed homes and businesses, and the diversion of the water supply throughout the West Bank and Gaza. In the past 18 months the situation has worsened, with road closures, curfews and increased military action creating a strangle hold on daily life for the Palestinian people.

Considering the staggering poverty that chokes Palestinian communities, the playgrounds offer a small but important oasis in a desert of despair.

The playground in Ramallah, named Family Park, is run by Nahla Qourah. A librarian by profession whose love for God and children is a driving force, Nahla is not only park director but also head of the Cultural Department of Ramallah and head librarian at the Ramallah Public Library.

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Tags: Marie Doty