Throughout January and February 2017, YES alumni in Gaza carried out a project to support children with Down Syndrome and their mothers at the Right to Live Association. The activity was in partnership with the Palestinian Education for Employment (PEFE) organization, an NGO providing demand-driven training for youth with limited opportunity in the West Bank and Gaza.
The project aimed to strengthen the connection between youth and their communities, spotlighting kids with Down Syndrome to demonstrate what a positive effect these youth can have when they are included. Activities focused on engaging the kids with Down Syndrome with a variety of people in society and breaking down degrading stereotypes.
Since social media has become such an important tool for social impact, the first phase of the project started by sharing a video about the activity and kids with Down syndrome. The video reached over 60,000 views and featured the hashtag #Just_ As_ I_Am.
The second phase was a counselling session for the mothers of the children. A professional psychotherapist met the YES alumni organizers, gave them information about Down Syndrome, and trained them to answer frequently asked questions of parents of children with Down Syndrome.
After their training, the YES alumni along with their PEFE partners met with the mothers and the psychotherapist all together. They started with an ice breaker - everyone rotated around the room to find people with whom they share interests. Later, the participants played more games to get them engaged with one another.
One of the most impactful parts of the event was when the women shared their experiences about having a child with Down Syndrome and dealing with the judgment of the society. One mother remarked, “I never thought I would meet youth who care about us and our children. I feel relieved”.
The third phase of the project was the main event. Thirty-five children between the ages 8-14 attended. With the help of the psychotherapist and activities instructor at the Right to Live, the YES alumni participated with the kids in various activities including music, arts, sports, games and competitions. Throughout the activities, the kids seemed enthusiastic and well engaged. One of the main activities was when the kids joined the YES alumni to perform a cultural dance, Dabkeh. The event ended by having a snack together and giving them some small gifts and toys to reward them for their participation.
Overall, the project succeeded in building capacity for children with Down Syndrome and their families. The YES alumni also found that this opportunity had a positive impact on their personalities and leadership skills – and they all had a lot of fun!