Intern Journal: A space to play

This past Thursday I made a visit with my Palestinian TYO counterpart, Iman, to the sports club in al-Askar refugee camp. Because 12 to 14-year-old boys need significant room to play, and because the afternoon sun in July and August here in Nablus is oppressive, TYO decided to seek out a covered sports area for my soccer class. The indoor field at the al-Askar club resembles a warehouse – dim yellow light seeping through the tin roof panels, an eerie echo, and a tarmac surface. But given the suffocation of the neighborhoods in which most of the children reside, I imagined the space would overwhelm them with a sense of liberation.

The manager of the club, Hussein, insisted we drink tea with mint. Following patient greetings and some talk of weather, we toured the remainder of the facility. Like most everything in the camps, the structure has grown awkwardly and opportunistically over a 50-year period. It burrows down and juts out. It hugs the small stores that make their home in its bottom floor.

We descended into a cramped space in which paperback Arabic children’s books were stacked and stuffed haphazardly on cardboard boxes for lack of shelves. Through a metal door was a room so central to the building’s interior that natural light fought to penetrate its few slender breaches. A troop of young women, dressed in resplendent colors, danced in unison to traditional Palestinian dabka music. Each swing of a saber, each dip to the ground, each spin and each twirl, said the manager, has a special significance and corresponds to a lyric. I promised Hussein I would bring the rest of the TYO interns to see the girls perform.

On Monday afternoon, I returned to the center with 18 boys from our target areas. Hussein brought five boys from al-Askar camp, including his son. The boys were thrilled at the idea of soccer in mid-afternoon without being subject to the sun.Unsurprisingly, that time of day is generally reserved for napping and waiting in the shade. The soccer they know occurs for a few minutes at school or in the evenings when they climb over a wall to access a small paved court. Often these evening games are interrupted by aggressive and apathetic teenagers.

We formed four teams for a rotation. While half of the boys played on the field, the other half cheered from the elevated bleachers, eagerly hopping along the guard rail. The sound resonated above and filled the expanse with a thick roar. The dabka girls peeked bashfully through interior windows and then scurried away.

Space is a thing of privilege. For children who often see walls, but rarely see past them, a few hours of sustained release is a gift that TYO is delighted to provide.

-Adam Gardner

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