The wind is rattling through the wire mesh windows of the sports club of Beit Hanoun, a city in the northern Gaza Strip. Despite the nearby Mediterranean, it is painfully cold in winter. The glass windows broke during the last war in August 2014. “This is where our children and youth find their own personal space and develop self-confidence,” explains the club’s honorary director Hassan Nasser. Through the wire mesh, the gaze is drawn to the brightly colored barracks which are serving as shelters for the large number of families who lost their homes in the war. 300,000 children and youth in the Gaza Strip are currently in need of psychosocial support. Approximately 45% of all children and youth suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
This is the starting point of “Sports for Smiles”, an initiative of the GIZ Future for Palestine Programme commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office. Supported by GIZ, the sport experts of the “Palestinian Sport Academy”(PSA) and the psychologists and psychiatrists of the “Gaza Community Mental Health Programme” (GCMHP) build a professional bridge between sports and psychosocial support.
Fun and relaxation are at the forefront
20 male and female sports coaches learn how to improve mental wellbeing with simple warm-up games and group reflection exercises. Around 400 girls and boys practice football or volleyball twice a week. Fun and relaxation are at the forefront. The mother of 12-year-old Aliya is relieved: “We learn how to help our children cope with the presence of constant violence and conflict in everyday life”. Engaging and building trust with parents and the supervision of teams are success factors. As counseling centers continue to be faced with overload, the initiative closes an important gap. “We need qualified and well-connected low-threshold support services like this to give people hope,” confirms Dr. Yasser Jamei, Director General of GCMHP.
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