Rahma Mu’ammar is a ninth-grade student at the UNRWA al-Fukhari Preparatory Girls’ School in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip with a very special dream: she wants to establish a sports centre for women in the Gaza Strip. The empowering idea to animate women in her community to engage in sports and exercise – something which is often frowned upon as a luxury activity in the embattled enclave, especially for women – came to her thanks to encouragement she received from her teacher, Fatma Qasha.
Ms Qasha, who has been working as a sports teacher for UNRWA for the past 16 years, invited Rahma to join her schools’ sport team after she noticed a certain hyperactivity and anger which manifested itself in episodes of destructive criticism vis-à-vis her fellow students: “I noticed that Rahma is overactive and has an energy that confounded the other girls. I thought that sports might be a way for her of using her energy in a positive way and that will eventually allow her to achieve self-realization.”
In Gaza, thirteen years of blockade continue to have devastating humanitarian consequences on the daily lives of Palestine refugees. The feeling of despair and hopelessness experienced by many Palestine refugees, in particular youth, is increased by repeated cycles of violence and widespread insecurity, with negative consequences on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of communities and individuals. Currently the Agency is extending individual and targeting group counselling to between 12,000 and 14,000 girls and boys in UNRWA schools in Gaza alone.
Sports is another healthy outlet to support the psychosocial well-being of children attending UNRWA schools in Gaza. As explained by Ms Qasha, “I believe that sports and exercise can be a good therapy for students who are facing difficulties expressing their ideas or for those who react violently. To this end, sports are not only important for a healthier body but, by reducing stress, they can help children make better decisions.”
Rahma herself recalls the impact that sports has had on her life: “When Ms Qasha asked me to join the school’s sport team, I felt very enthusiastic and motivated, although I wasn’t sure about my ability. I first played as a goalie for the school’s football team and, when the project ended, I joined the school’s table-tennis team. I won the school competition and then I was upgraded to play for the Khan Younis governorate and I won the first-place honor.”
Ms Qasha’s thinking goes beyond the therapeutic benefits of engaging in sports: “I don’t only coach, but I try to eliminate prevailing stereotypes about women in sports by raising awareness among the community about the importance of sports for everyone.”
Ultimately, this was the cue that triggered Rahma’s dream to establish a sports center for women in Gaza. “I live in a community that regards sports as something of a luxury; girls are not allowed to think about it. The school gave me the opportunity to feel and sense of achievement and express myself. Thanks to Ms. Fatma, I feel empowered to persuade my community to encourage females to engage in sports and exercise.” Her experience with sport has helped illuminate a path for her: “After joining the school sports team, I was very clear about what I will do in future. I will establish a sports centre for women in my neighbourhood.”
Ms. Fatma Qasha is one of 73 teachers in two UNRWA schools in East Khan Younis (the UNRWA al-Fukhari Elementary Co-Ed School and the UNRWA al-Fukhari Preparatory Girls School) who were supported through a generous contribution from the Government of Norway to help safeguard inclusive, quality education for approximately 2,800 Palestine refugee students for the 2018/2019 academic year. In addition to covering teachers’ salaries, the schools were provided with needed stationery, teaching tools and furniture to promote a supportive learning environment.