Smiles In Gaza as the Quest for Freedom Continues
(by Ayman Quader and Andrew Felluss)
Gaza City, Palestine – October 13th, 2009. Steadfast in their smiles of innocence, children of Al-Maghazi refugee camp, in the middle of the Gaza Strip, enjoyed the launching today of ‘Quest For Smile’, an after-school event of performance and entertainment organized in Gaza and sponsored internationally. The celebration was attended by an estimated 200 children, who eagerly immersed themselves in the festivities, sharing moments of joy and friendship, and forgetting awhile the recent violence that has plagued their place of residence.
Less than one year ago, during the 23-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, 3 children living in Al-Maghazi camp were killed, and over 30 were critically wounded. All of these children in the camp, which was established in 1949 to shelter refugees of the Palestine War, are recovering from the psychological trauma of the latest attacks.
The Quest For Smile event was organized by the Unlimited Friends Association in Gaza and co-sponsored by Artists Against Apartheid and No More Ignorance, both international arts activist groups. Funding for the event was provided by generous contributors through fund raising drives by the organizers and sponsors, and demonstrated the will of the international community to lend support for youth activities in Gaza.
The initiative also prompted the co-sponsors to draft a message to the children, who endure ongoing human rights violations, both as the subjects of recent violence, and through their inherited struggle as Palestinian refugees. In the message of solidarity, the co-sponsors strongly stressed that the children of the Gaza are not alone, and people around the world are actively supporting their quest for freedom and equality.
“No words can express joy experienced by these children during the event”, said one audience member, noting how the children couldn’t stop clapping and dancing with the costumed performers. The young audience enjoyed several activities and performances, including dancing, group games, a trivia contest, and others, as well as spending some leisurely time outside with friends.
Two of the children read aloud the ‘Message of Hope from Abroad’ that was sent from the co-sponsors, both in English and Arabic. During the reading, the children listened intently, as if the voices were coming directly to their ears from outside Gaza. This message had great influence on the children, who immediately reflected upon their situation. Ahmed, who is seven years old, said “I am here so as to practice my childhood that I am being prevented to do so. Therefore I join this event today to share happiness and play with my same aged children and friends”. Salwa, a 9 year old girl, was critically injured during the recent war on Gaza, narrowly escaping her house with her family before the main municipality was directly targeted and completely destroyed. She expressed her deep pleasure upon hearing the message, which reads:
Message of Hope from Abroad to the Children of Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp, Gaza:
Dear Children of Al-Maghazi, we are a group of artists and activists who wish to send you a message of hope from around the world. We come from many countries, and all support your struggle for freedom and equality.
When bombs fell on Gaza earlier this year, we wished we could take you in our homes, to protect you from the cruelty you were forced to endure. Still, you have endured: you are alive to hear this now, and we are in awe of your strength.
We want you to know that you are not alone, and we have not forgotten what has happened to the people of Palestine. We will not rest until you and your families are free, and allowed to live in peace.
We hope you have enjoyed today’s event, and we send our warmest regards to all of the performers, speakers and organizers who have shared this afternoon of smiles with you. We hope these moments of joy will be everlasting.
After listening intently to the message, the children directly signed down their names and ages as joyful witnesses, and taking their own copies of the document.
Here today, in this small refugee camp in the heart of Gaza City, this group of innocent children were overjoyed by a rare opportunity: a chance to “just be kids”. Day to day life in Gaza is trying, as basic human rights and sustenance are hindered as the collective punishment of the siege persists. But for an afternoon, this ‘Quest For Smile’ was a success.