The war-ravaged Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City is still a scene of wrecked buildings and rubble, but the children continue to enjoy their playtime at the Right to Live Society.
Remarkably, the playground survived the 2014 war and has been preserved as an oasis of hope for 300 Gaza children with Down syndrome and autism.
Anera built the playground in 2010 in cooperation with Playgrounds for Palestine. It was made primarily from recycled materials after the 2007 blockade of Gaza made it impossible to bring in the appropriate building materials. The playground equipment was specially designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities.
Almost all our buildings were damaged or impacted by the war. This is the only thing that survived.
“It surprised all of us to see it intact,” said Ibrahim Junidi, the Society’s director of programs. “Almost all our buildings were damaged or impacted by the war. This is the only thing that survived.”
Some students were moving around the play area, enjoying every moment of their 45-minute break. “It’s part of our daily routine,” Ibrahim explains as he keeps an eye on the children playing around him. “Spring is the perfect time for the children to enjoy their right to play.”
Ibrahim explains that playtime is essential for children with disabilities as a part of their body and mind therapy. Designing a playground to fulfill the needs is a challenge, especially because there is a lack of appropriate materials and expertise in Gaza. “The playground addresses different aspects of their psychological and physical abilities,” he explains. “Mentors use the spiral part, for instance, to foster attentiveness while the slides invigorate body movement and flexibility.”
Although children with Down syndrome may not be at the same cognitive level of children their age, their behavior in the playground does not differ from children without any developmental delays. “It’s been observed that both groups of children develop similar trends toward playing,” he added.
Abdulaleem Abu Abdeh, came to the Society to be regularly examined shortly after he was born, under the early intervention program. Thanks to the early diagnosis, the 10-year-old now excels in writing, reading and counting. He also loves playtime with his teacher, Yasmeen Shaabat. “The playground represents another opportunity for kids with disabilities to thrive,” she says. She adds that rehabilitating the society after the war is crucial to resuming its important activities.
What is the Right to Live Society?
The Right to Live Society was established in 1993 as the first and only society to care for Gazans with Down syndrome. Students at the non-government organization are given the tools and special education to live as productive members of society. The center has a year round schedule for the children, including dance classes, art crafts, play, carpentry, and other skills classes. The center aims to raise awareness and help those with Down syndrome and extend its services to all of Gaza.