With border closures and increased poverty continuously undermining the ability of Palestinian teenagers to get a good education and enjoy their time off, tens of thousands of youngsters are benefiting from United Nations-supported learning centres in the West Bank and Gaza to help them overcome stress and hopelessness.
“The chronic anxiety adolescents are facing on a daily basis undermines their self-esteem and increases their feelings of loss of control over their lives,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report of a centre in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, one of 40 that the agency is supporting in cooperation with the Palestinian non-governmental organization (NGO), Tamer Institute for Community Education and the Ma’an Development Centre.
The centres are run with the help of local committees trained by UNICEF, consisting of at least four adolescents (both male and female) who oversee activities. Committee members receive 30 hours of training on child rights, communication skills and project management.
UNICEF provides core supplies such as stationery, library furniture and books, as well as computer, sports and music equipment, to enhance the adolescent-friendly environment.
In the midst of poor living conditions at Jabalia, where the poverty rate exceeds 70 per cent in some areas, the centre is the only available outlet for adolescents, serving at least 17,000 of the most disadvantaged teenagers in a setting where they can learn music, play sports and improve their literacy and information technology skills.
“This centre is the only place that gives me the opportunity to learn and widen my knowledge,” said Mohammed, 15. “I built good friendships as well. I am now able to express myself better than before.”
Because most of the 300 youth clubs in Gaza and the West Bank are under-funded and ill-equipped, most adolescents do not have access to safe recreational areas. At the Jabalia centre, however, they are able to socialize with their peers and learn new things, including dabkeh, the traditional Palestinian folkloric dance.
“The thing that I love the most is music, dabkeh and sports,” Mohammed said. “They are very important in helping me build my body and activate my thinking.”
Hanin, 16, added: “Because I am interested in learning dabkeh, my life is totally different now. Before coming to the centre, there were no places that could teach us.”
The Jabalia Community Centre, which receives funds from the Canadian International Development Agency, is open six days a week, three days each assigned for boys’ and girls’ activities.
The Gaza Strip and areas in the West Bank have seen frequent closures and road checks in the current violence between Israel and Palestinian groups.