SIDON, Lebanon: Children dove for sugar cubes in dishes full of flour in Sidon Friday, competing in one of the many games that were part of the opening of the Palestinian Olympics, “Palestiniadi.” UNRWA and the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis (Madad Fund) organized the 10th edition of Palestiniadi, which included recreational and athletic activities as well as traditional games like sugar cube diving. It brings together over 350 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian students, including 75 children with special needs, at the Siblin Training Center in southern Lebanon for three days of fun, games and competition.
Reem Aawad was one of the competitors with special needs and came out on top in another traditional game. “I bit the apple hanging on the rope without touching it [with my hands], and I beat the others,” she told The Daily Star.
The director of UNRWA in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, joined in the competition diving for a sugar cube, leaving his face covered in flour as he tried to find the sweet without his hands.
With the fun was a more serious message. Before lighting the games’ own Olympic torch at the event’s opening, Cordone commended the Palestinian community for its resilience, saying: “We draw our strength from the Palestinian refugees who taught us that surrendering is not an option, and we will not give up.”
He also reiterated thanks to the European Union “with its 82 million euros ($101 million) contribution to UNRWA’s budget during our most difficult financial crisis. And we are grateful for the EU’s commitment to maintaining the current level of support until 2020.” The agency is facing the most serious financial crisis in its history after its largest donor, the U.S., announced in January that it would contribute just $60 million in 2018, down from around $360 million the previous year.
“I was a student here [with UNRWA] in 1975. This agency has nurtured the Palestinian people for almost 70 years with educational, health and social services, and yet it is facing obstacles,” UNRWA’s chief area officer for central Lebanon, Mohammad Khaled told attendees. He urged everyone to contribute to the “Dignity is Priceless” campaign, aimed to secure more funding.
“You should stand by this institution that has provided education to over 500,000 Palestinian students, health services to 3.5 million refugees and cash assistance to 1.7 million people.”
A representative of the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Khaled al-Aabadi highlighted the importance of investing in the community’s young people and the positive impact of events such as the games. “The sports games of Palestiniadi help develop the athletic capabilities, and enables [children] to exert their energy positively and peacefully.”
He noted that the youth are the most influential, present and widespread part of the Palestinian society. “We need to develop the youth movement through sports, culture, intellectual engagement, enhancing the collective spirit and volunteer work. We are relying on them to promote the Palestinian cause and accelerate the work toward freedom, independence and the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
Walaa Mtayer, a Palestinian refugee living in the Rashidieh camp near Tyre, is an avid football player. She and Qamar Derbassani formed an all-girl team to compete at Friday’s games. “We have to be strong because sports are a kind of a struggle,” Mtayer said. “Sports give us hope that we will return [to Palestine].”