When American couple Heather Henyon and Armen Vartanian decided to get married, they knew the gift they wanted to commemorate their marriage.
They asked their guests to donate what they might have spent on a wedding present to helping build a playground in the West Bank, making a dream come true for Palestinian children there.
“We passionately care about the people of Palestine, having lived and worked there,” said Heather. “We traveled to the West Bank together in 2003, and wanted to use this opportunity to give something back.”
In the narrow, neglected streets and alleys of Arroub refugee camp in among the hoard of houses, children wander around looking for a place to play and release the stress and tension of their daily lives. Up until a year ago, there was no place they could go.
“We’re approximately 9,000 inhabitants and the refugee camp is crowded. Children are suffering the most because there is a lack of clubs, recreational activities and places to play. Although children are at a crucial stage of their lives where they need to run around and be active, and allow for their minds as well as bodies to grow and develop, we, as refugee parents, can only offer so little. The camp sinks in poverty, our houses are tiny and some houses don’t even have windows, let alone a room or some space for the children to play,” explained Basma Jawabra, a mother of three children and employee at the Popular Committee of Arroub Refugee Camp.
A year ago, the Popular Committee, with funding from the Feneeq Association, built the camp’s first public park with a sand covered playground, two swimming pools, and two large halls. UNICEF contributed by providing safe, locally manufactured outdoor toys such as slides and swings. The Popular Committee holds a two-week annual summer camp at the park to help children unwind as well as learn and have fun.
Children from preschools and schools from nearby villages fill this playground every day with laughter and commotion, but the thing that attracts children the most with its great size and bright colors is the new jungle gym. This exciting new attraction, installed by Anera a month ago, was funded and designed by the US-based Playgrounds for Palestine and built locally in the West Bank.
“My children love the new jungle gym. It is the first thing they run towards and spend most time on when I take them to the park. I feel completely at ease when they run off to play because I know the jungle gym is firm, steady and safe,” said Basma.