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Renovating a Kindergarten for the Children of Jerash Refugee Camp

5 July, 2016
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The Jerash Camp Kindergarten in Jerash Camp or 'Gaza' Camp in Jordan, has been operational as long as the camps has been since 1968 when the mostly Gazan refugees arrived. The Camp's roughly 24,000 refugees are crowded into a small area, without citizenship either in Gaza nor Jordan and having no rights to own land or integrate. While today, Jerash Camp has schools, shops, and restaurants, infrastructure is limited; and this kindergarten, which serves the poorest children, is in ill-repair. Grassroots organisers Khaled Al Shakka, Hiba Khoury Al Muna, and Meira Yasin work under the name of 'One Love', and have been fighting to renovate the space. 

"The place is so important due to the limitation of open spaces at camp and the cramped conditions of homes there," Al Shakka told BECAUSE. "We can and we will do a great job with the kindergarten and we hope to serve the children and to allow access to volunteers and grassroots initiatives to implement programs and campaigns from there."

The children who grow up inside the camp face all the challenges relating to not having safe places to play, instead playing in their small homes or out on the streets. The existing playground equipment at the nursery is broken, and there are no parks or safe recreational areas inside the camp. The nursery age children attend during the day, and the school age and high school children use these facilities after school.

"Children who have safe places to play and creative activities to fill their time are more like to be healthier, have normal growth and development, overall better mental health, and will stay out of trouble," says Al Shakka. When this happens, older students can volunteer to help out, becoming role models to the younger students. "
This encourages the students to give back to their community and take pride in community service and humanitarianism," he says. 

Al-Shakka's role has been to fundraise, coordinate volunteers, and liaise with the kindergarten in the renovation project. One Love, as a grassroots group of volunteers, regularly collaborate with NGOs. "I feel very committed to helping improve the situation for the people living inside the camp, to help the families and to give the children the opportunity for a brighter future," he says.

Children in the area are from families of lower socioeconomic status who do not have the financial means to access the better schools that other children living outside the camp can afford. Their refugee status makes this even more challenging for them, Al Shakka explained.

"Before we started working at the kindergarten, it was clear to us that the place was underfunded and under-serviced," says Al Shakka. The teachers, staff and volunteers had been working in almost impossible conditions, offering services such as art lessons, dabka classes, English lessons, and psychosocial support activities.

The group started by renovating the bathrooms, as they were in horrible condition: unhygienic, with windows in bad condition, poor and broken furniture, doors falling off their frames and holes in the floor in place of working toilets. There was also no kitchen area for the teachers and staff to prepare snacks or drinks. Security was poor, with little place to store the donated supplies and no outer fencing to prevent vandals from jumping in and ruining the garden they were planting. 

"The garden was full of debris, no plantation or greenery, and the soil was unattended to. We managed to clean the garden area and flip the soil as an activity between the kids and volunteers from Amman, and it was a great activity for all," Al Shakka says. 

In the playground area, playground fixings were missing seats and chains, some structures such as the merry-go-round needing to be fixed and fastened into the ground again. 

Al-Shakka's family and friends and donors both within and outside Jordan have helped make this work possible, he says, but more donations are needed to finish the project. Al-Shakka and his friends are aiming to finish renovations before the school year starts again in September.

"As soon as we can secure the donations needed to continue to rest of the renovations, we are ready to start at any time," says Al Shakka. So far the costs of the renovations to the bathroom and kitchen have amounted to around JD 3,500.

To continue the work, people can help by donating towards the renovations. "People can also volunteer with the kids to do activities that encourage their growth, increase creativity, and help them to feel like they are not forgotten," says Al Shakka. "People can also help by raising awareness of the situation in Gaza Camp. We welcome all volunteers in whatever capacity they would like to join our efforts," Al Shakka says.

After fixing the fence and playground, the group plans on expanding the facilities and making a library and space for music, art, and creative expression. 

"In order to utilize the available space, we also hope to encourage the kids in acting, singing, poetry recitation, and other creative activities that will give them a way to utilize their extra energy," Al Shakka says. 

"Our aim is to help the children develop and give them better opportunities as they grow, so they may enter high school and college with the necessary resources to learn and be more well-rounded individuals," Al Shakka says.

Image courtesy of One Love

Tags Because MENA Jordan Jerash Camp Gaza Camp refugees refugee camps Palestine CSR volunteering NGO social enterprise kindergarten education preschool infrastructure