Pocket Parks to Be Built Across West Bank, Gaza

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Sixteen small pocket parks throughout the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank are to be built or revitalized over the next year by the nonprofit organization CHF International, the group said Wednesday.

CHF International, based in Silver Spring, is a development and humanitarian relief organization that has been active in the West Bank and Gaza for more than 10 years.

The 12 month program of park creation and renewal - the Palestinian American Recreation and Conservation Services Project (PARCS) - is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In addition to providing greater recreational access and an improved quality of life for over 800,000 community members, PARCS will provide residents with immediate employment opportunities through construction and revitalization projects, CHF said in a statement.


Kids at play on a Gaza street. Few parks exist in Gaza or in the West Bank. (Photo courtesy Resource Center for Nonviolence)
"We are proud to expand our existing housing, infrastructure and extensive lending work in Gaza and the West Bank with a project that will have such a palpable impact on residents' quality of life," said CHF International's Vice President of External Relations John Chromy.

As with all of CHF International's projects around the world, the organization will ensure that all community stakeholders - particularly women, children, youth, the elderly and those with special needs - are active participants in the design and implementation of the project.

Over one million Gazans live crowded into 360 square kilometers, many of them in refugee camps. Streets are made of dirt and mud, houses are made of unfinished cement blocks, and there are no parks or playgrounds anywhere in sight.

"It's so important to provide recreational facilities that will help to counter the detrimental effects of living in conflict, while helping to restore the area's historical beauty," Chromy said.

The construction of urban public parks is one of the development projects that USAID is accelerating as a sign of America's commitment to support the democratically elected Palestinian leadership.

A total of $2 million is set aside for the parks, covering the costs of design, construction, landscaping and maintenance equipment.

Because of urban sprawl, many Palestinians live in heavily congested communities with far too few, if any, green spaces, USAID said. Health experts consider parks to be a powerful antidote to the stress of urban living because they contribute to a sense of well-being and provide space for the relaxation, rest, revitalization and recreation that is essential to stress management.

"Normally, U.S. funded projects for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza concentrate on building urgently needed infrastructure - reservoirs, roads and water networks," said USAID Project Manager Tony Rantissi. "This time we wanted to do a project that would give Palestinian families a place to relax and play together."


An unpaved street in Gaza (Photo courtesy USAID)
All facilities created or upgraded through the PARCS project will provide residents in the West Bank and Gaza with recreational areas that will ensure access for physically challenged community members, while protecting the environment and creatively using local resources.

It sounds like a large task, but CHF International will receive help from architecture students from local universities who will be involved in the parks' design and construction.

The students will gain practical training and exposure to participatory and professional design approaches, while developing a sense of pride and responsibility for their communities.

CHF International is already implementing an environmental program in the West Bank and Gaza focused on removing solid waste. Through its Palestinian Environmental Improvement/Vocational Training Program in the West Bank and Gaza, CHF has helped in the removal more than 160,000 tons of solid waste over the past two years. This program has created almost $3 million in income for the participating communities, the organization said.

Founded in 1952, CHF International is a non-profit development organization that has helped families in over 100 countries worldwide improve their economic circumstances, environment, and infrastructure.

The organization provides technical expertise in international development, including critical emergency management following disasters and civil conflict.