On Sunday 19th March, We travelled to Rafah area of Gaza to remember Rachel , whose 9th Anniversary fell on March 16th. Rachel was a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003, while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. We first attended an olive planting ceremony attended by Palestinian schoolchildren and organised by the Ministry of Sport and Youth. A speech was read by Nathan , on behalf of the International Solidarity Movement which included excerpts from Rachel’s letters home in which she portrayed her admiration and love of the Palestinian people. The school children sang song’s and held up posters of Rachel and messages of solidarity.
In the afternoon, we went to the Rachel Corrie Children’s Centre, also in Rafah.
After Rachel’s untimely death in March 2003, the Union of Health Work Committees named their clinic and children’s center after her. The Children’s Center is dedicated to building relationships between the isolated children and youth in Rafah and their peers in other countries.
The Children’s Center provides creative and educational opportunities to the children of Rafah City and Rafah refugee camp. They hold art classes, summer camps and a variety of after-school programs.The children attending range from 6 -11 years old, boy’s and girl’s. They work , through play to help children, perhaps withdrawn or falling behind in school due to the experience of living under a siege, They also work frequently with mothers of the children to better help them to help their children open up about their troubles through interactive role playing and projects.
In December 2003, The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) , provided start-up funds to purchase furniture, art supplies, and computers for the new center. Since then they have supplied back-packs with school supplies for the children at the center and continued to support their diversifying programs. In 2007, they bought educational toys and games and new furnishings for their children’s playroom and donated the books for their children’s library.
We joined in as they cut out and decorated banners with posters of Rachel glued in the centre, We divided in to teams for their game of ” Sharks and Fishes”. Slowly throughout the afternoon , the children themselves became less shy and little hands would sneak in to mine, or tussles would begin to see who got a turn to sit beside us or on my knee, slightly more confident ones would insist jeff took their pictures, others wanted to be on Derek’s team, some of the little girls wanted to come home with me, even the smallest, most timid, little girl of the group made her way finally over to me and ended up sitting on my knee and kissing and hugging me . The children put on demonstrations, songs and games for us and invited us to join in. The children’s only outdoor play area is a small playground in Rafah, very close to the tunnel and border area so they do not manage to use this area very often.
My heart would break when ever I would remember the atrocities these kids have already seen in their short lives, the nightmares some still have and the possibility that each day could bring more bad images and memories, but the help and support centre’s like this can offer gives us all some hope
As always, sadly, more and more children require the use of a facility like this and funds and equipment are always needed. These children opened up their centre to us, laughed as we tried our best to fit in with their games, gave us the privilege of spending a few hours with them…… wore us out basically !!!!
It was an Honour and a Privilege to be part of their lives as it was an honour to be In Gaza on the occasion to commemorate not just the Death, but the life of a young Activist, Rachel, who will never be forgotten by Palestinian’s young and old and by those of us who never met , but came to know her through her stories of Palestine and her own life story.
R.I.P Rachel ..
Pictures by Jeff Bright