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Kite flying festival offers Palestinian children brief reprieve from camps.

Byline: Annika Folkeson

Summary: A lone yellow kite greeted the visitors approaching Jal al-Baher Beach in Tyre on Tuesday morning. Soon, however, three more buses with Palestinian children from camps all over Lebanon arrived to participate in Tuesday's kite flying festival. Around noon, a bustling crowd of over 600 children could be seen dancing, playing games.

BEIRUT: A lone yellow kite greeted the visitors approaching Jal al-Baher Beach in Tyre on Tuesday morning. Soon, however, three more buses with Palestinian children from camps all over Lebanon arrived to participate in Tuesday's kite flying festival. Around noon, a bustling crowd of over 600 children could be seen dancing, playing games - on the beach and in the water - and, of course, trying to master the art of kite flying.

Ten young kite-making experts from "Atfal al-Ghad" (Children of Tomorrow) center helped train 60 children in each refugee camp, who subsequently taught other children in their camp, to make kites. On Tuesday, these children brought their kites, with messages renouncing violence or greetings to loved ones written on them, to Jal al-Baher Beach.a

"It's great! The children get a chance to get out of the camps, see other parts of Lebanon, and meet lots of other children to make friends with," said one of the participants. This is a much needed break from everyday life in the camps. "The conditions in the camps are often difficult for the children, and they experience a lot of violence, this is a way for them to forget about difficulties and just have fun," said Nadine Muhahi who works for the General Union of Palestinian Women in Beddawi (GUPW).

Before coming to the beach, the centers working in the camps held discussions on violence with the children. During the dialogues "we discover many children who suffer from violence, both at home and in school. Some of them express it through drawing. When they come back from the beach the children are much happier," said Nadine.

For the second year, Handicap International, a non-governmental organization working in refugee camps in Lebanon, organizes an awareness campaign on the topic of violence which is a major problem in the camps. This event - the kite flying festival which brings together groups of children from all over Lebanon - is one of the main happenings of the campaign. Handicap International works together with the organizations Najdeh and GUPW to arrange these activities.

"Children must not hurt each other, or say bad things to each other, this is what we learned," said Nawar, an 8-year-old from Rashidieh camp.

Her friend echoed the same sentiment. "We also learned that violence between a teacher and a student is also a kind of violence." "We like coming to the beach," they both said. "otherwise we are so bored."

In addition to the several hundred children, about 150 mothers joined the trip to the beach. "You usually don't see any fathers who take part in the activities; they are working, or just doing something else," said Ghassan Abou Chaar, the field officer and coordinator of the event for Handicap International. "It is rare to find a father to talk to and who is participating - Arab culture is this way."

The most challenging element of the beach-event for the organizers is safety. With so many children and fewer adults, it is difficult to oversee activities, especially in the water.

Another risk-factor is the garbage that is strewn all over the beach.

"The children pick up something they find and they hurt themselves," Ghassan says. "We have support from the [Tyre] municipality for this event. They were supposed to come, the police and the Red Cross - but I guess they forgot."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Jul 24, 2008
Words:630
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