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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Living Within a 15 Second Window

Last week I visited a new project of JNF USA, a fantastic indoor children’s recreation center in Sderot.
This center was built to bring some measure of fun and freedom to children who for almost ten years have lived in terror, with thousands of Kassam rockets fired at them from Gaza . All of the children in this area suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The best way to describe the play area is simply, children’s heaven. It has everything any child or teenager could possibly want to wile away their free time.
There are dolls and teddies, cooking corners and swings, a room for holding birthday parties, a giant bouncing-castle, a mini-mall with its own ‘caspomat’ (ATM machine) cafes, bookstores and supermarkets complete with mini- trolleys.

For the older kids there are computers, table-football, a boxing corner, a snack bar, a climbing wall, play-stations, disco hall and a small football pitch

There’s plenty of opportunity and equipment here to release pent-up energy and exhaust everyone – which is just what the children in this area need.

And , the most important factor is that every part of the playground is within a few meters of one of the shelters built along the sides of the recreation area and which are an integral part of it.
Those of us who don’t live in Sderot may have been naive enough to think that since the ‘Cast Lead’ IDF operation in Gaza last winter, it’s been ‘all- quiet-on-the-southern- front’ – but of course it hasn’t. There have been several rocket attacks since the operation ended.

It may be calmer than before, but while Hamas is recharging its batteries in Gaza, the residents of Sderot have to continue to live with the possibility that the Kassam rocket attacks could start up again at any moment.

So when this center was built, the IDF were in on the planning at every stage.
The ‘magic’ number was always 15.
Fifteen seconds is the amount of time between the sirens sounding and the rocket falling.
Fifteen seconds is the time you have to find a safe shelter.

So when the designers wanted to build a colorful, fun merry-go-round in the center of the playground for the little kids to enjoy - the IDF nixed it.
It takes 25 seconds to bring a merry-go-round to a complete stop , and that's way too long – so no merry-go-round.

When the designers wanted to make the floor more user-friendly and have it padded with foam , the IDF nixed it .
It will slow up the kids when they’re running for the shelters.

Every bus stop in Sderot is a bomb shelter so that anyone who is on the streets when the siren goes, is hopefully within 15 seconds of some safe shelter.

Outside playgrounds and sports pitches are sadly deserted, even on a pleasant, quiet sunny afternoon – they’re too risky, too far away from safety.
How many of us can even imagine living life always checking that we're no more than 15 seconds from safety?

This secure indoor recreation center is a happy solution to some of Sderot’s children’s problems.
As one young boy put it; “ It’s great. For the first time in almost ten years my friends from the center of the country are jealous of me.”

1 comment:

Varda Meyers Epstein said...

Ann, thank you for writing this touching piece about the kids of Sderot. I plan to send a link to my friends who think that the rocket attacks have ended.