In the heart of the crowded Sabra – Shatila Palestinian camp stands the JCC Nursery and Kindergarten which has served the camp community and its surroundings since the1950s. Space in the camp is very limited and population growth dictates additional construction. This has caused a cramped housing condition with narrow, dark and humid alleys where the children play as there is no other choice. The JCC has long been conscience of this problem and the dire need to provide children and especially those under its care with a safe outdoor space to play, run, climb and enjoy the precious years of their childhood.
The JCC Kindergarten occupies a rented premise on the first floor of a building where it runs three class levels with an average of 70 children per year. The children sit in colorful rooms decorated with bright educational wall hangings in an attempt to compensate for the colorless and dingy homes they live in. But the fact that the kindergarten has no place for the children to play, except for a very small area between the classrooms, has always bothered us.
At the back of the building, lies a space adjacent to the kindergarten on which stood an atrociously ugly structure. It was built during the civil war to receive the wounded and the dead. For many years after the end of the war, the possibility of pulling it down and renting the space as a playground has been the focus of constant negotiations with the owner. After 12 years of such efforts the owner gave in and the JCC was finally able to demolish the structure. The job undertaken was difficult and costly, but keeping the end result in mind, the JCC persisted.
Where once there was a dilapidated old building there is now an open air space where the children run and play without fear of being hit by a motorcycle or having to retrieve a ball from a gutter or from under a car.
The playground has space for games and has a variety of brand new equipment for the children to enjoy. This, not only allows the children to have fun outdoors, but gives them excellent opportunities to increase their hand-eye coordination, balance and general fitness. Such a space has also given the kindergarten teachers a chance to organize outdoor team games for the first time.
Bringing this dream to reality has been a true team effort. Generous donations from BibleLands of Britain, the United Church of Christ USA and the Right to Play organization have been key in this amazing transformation. Our own volunteers from the JCC center in Dbayeh spent several days clearing the ground of rubble and cement before laying topsoil.