By Marisa Trezza, University of Delaware
Of all the incredible things we did through The David Project this January, visiting the JNF Playground that doubled as a bomb shelter in Sderot was the most moving experience for myself. I have worked with children for most of my life, and to hear how a conflict affects children broke my heart.
We visited a city called Sderot, which had hundreds of missiles shot at it over the years from the Gaza strip. The city is less than a mile from Gaza, and due to the city’s proximity to Gaza, it is a constant target. At any given time, an alarm could sound in the city that gives the citizens 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter before a missile hits the ground. Three weeks before we arrived, a missile was shot at the city; this is an ongoing issue for these people.
A huge problem that the city faced was that children would not go out to playgrounds because they were scared of the missiles. An indoor playground was donated to the city that also doubles as a bomb shelter. This allowed children to finally have a place to feel safe and have fun.
Play is a hugely important part of child development, and giving a child the opportunity to play, be comfortable, and happy warms my heart. We heard about the playground and got the opportunity to play in it ourselves. There was a ball pit, a place to learn to play musical instruments, air hockey, little tricycles, a rock wall, and so much more.
We spoke to the man who runs the playground about how he does everything in his power to ensure that not only will the children of Sderot have the opportunity to play in the playground, but also feel safe. He told us about his dream to bring a bus full of Israeli children from Sderot, and a bus full of children from Gaza to the playground, so that they could play together and see that they are not so different after all. When he told us this, I broke, I teared up. It was the moment where I could see the human side of this conflict. The side that hurts innocent families and children. I could see the genuine desire for peace behind this old man’s eyes. It wasn’t about picking a side, or politics, it was purely for the children. After that visit to the playground I realized that although I do not have a solution to this complicated issue, peace needs to be found somewhere.