Back in 2010, we sent funds to the Palestinian Cultural and Heritage Association (PCHA) in Beit Lahiya to furbish a children’s library within their community centre to provide a much needed facility for the local children there. Beit Lahiya is a town on the North of the Gaza Strip, and is cursed by its location close to the Israeli border to incursions from the Israeli military, and sniper fire from Israeli border guards on their observation towers. The children have little by way of community activity available to them, and delinquency was on the increase. The local community had looked to find ways to get them more engaged, and they looked to the PCHA to see if these could be provided.

This wonderful association tends to work in three ways.

First, it provides education and life skills to many local Palestinian women. I observed a session on hygiene and health matters while I was there. It also provides them with an income by teaching them traditional crafts, and they make clothing and other craftware that they sell.

This leads to the second area of focus, which is the preservation of Palestinian folklore and culture. Palestine’s heritage, especially in craft and clothing, is very deep and varied. However, under the current occupation and with pressing needs for survival, much of this is at risk of being lost. This association takes the approach to keeping it alive by teaching it to local women in a way that helps provide them with a livelihood as well as skills. The skills range from weaving cloth, to sewing and making folkloric clothing, to more modern skills such as computing and management.

Finally, the third area, and the one that most closely relates to our work at Hope and Play, is the care and provision of facilities for children. We saw a nursery there where mothers could leave their children while working, and although by Western standards, the facilities there were incredibly basic, the paintings and colour used were beautiful and made for a very inviting facility.

The association decided based on the requests of the local community to provide a playground and a children’s library. Hope and Play’s financial assistance was requested for both of these, and in 2010, a children’s library was furbished in the centre. We were pleased with this project – it seemed to serve a very valid need.

Except for one thing! What we were not aware of was that they did not have enough funding to purchase the books for the library! And they didn’t manage to raise funding for this even by my visit there in June 2012.

So we decided to finish the job. With the assistance of a children’s educational expert from the Canaan Institute of New Pedagogy in Gaza City, we gave the centre a budget to buy the books that they needed to make the library usable. And late in 2012, the job was completed, with Beit Lahiya having a fully stocked children’s library for the local kids (as well as a bunch of kids who clearly were not studying but had to pose with books for the cameras! It’s the same the world over).

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We are looking next to help them get new playground equipment into their play garden. Again, this garden was rescussitated with our help, but although it is now a pretty and safe play area for kids (or at least safe in terms of equipment, if not in terms of proximity to Israel), the playground equipment leaves something to be desired. More on this as we help them kit it up!