Israel + 1 more

Learning centres help restore hope for Palestinian adolescents

By Monica Awad

RAFAH, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 6 June 2007- On a daily basis, the rights of children and adolescents in the West Bank and Gaza - including their rights to education and to play - are compromised by the effects of closures, disruption of schooling and deteriorating living standards in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But there is some respite at the Ajyal Al Mustakbal (or 'Future Generation') Centre in Rafah, where adolescents come to learn literacy and computer skills. They also have the opportunity to engage in sports, music, drama and life-skills education.

The club serves at least 1,000 adolescents from three remote neighbourhoods in Rafah: Shaboura, Kherbet Al Adass and Al Zuhur. In these impoverished areas, poverty rates are 70 per cent or higher.

"I joined this centre because I like its activities," said Haya El Nahal, 15, a girl from Kherbet Al Adass. "I chose life skills, and I learned about issues such as health and social issues, including early marriage, reproductive health and gender. As a result, my self-confidence increased and I became more and more social with other people."

Caught in the crossfire

Palestinian children and adolescents continue to be caught in the crossfire here, with at least 23 killed in the conflict since the beginning of this year. Just last Friday, two Palestinian adolescent boys, both 14, were killed and third, age 16, was wounded as they were flying kites in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

"Given the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, poverty, closures and incursions have made life difficult for Palestinian adolescents." said UNICEF Project Officer Reem Tarazi.

To help teens in the West Bank and Gaza overcome their hopelessness, and to provide them with meaningful programmes outside of school, UNICEF supports 40 adolescent-friendly learning centres like the Ajyal Al Mustakbal facility. The centres are operated in cooperation with two non-governmental organizations, the Tamer Institute for Community Education and the Maan Development Centre.

Ajyal Al Mustakbal, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, is open six days a week - three days for boys and the other three for girls.

Training and equipment provided

UNICEF is currently supporting the adolescent-friendly learning centres in the following ways:

- Training local committees comprising at least four adolescents, who oversee the planning and implementation of activities; they each receive 30 hours of training on child rights, communication skills and project management

- Ensuring girls' participation by allocating specific days of the week at the centres for girls' activities

- Providing essential supplies, including stationary, library furniture and books, as well as computers, sports equipment and musical instruments.

"My friends at school told me that there is a centre for reading and learning, and that they were going to join it," said Nemr El Bordeiny, a 16-year-old boy from Shaboura who goes to the Ajyal Al Mustakbal Centre. "When I came to the centre, I saw that there were computers and sports as well as Arabic, reading, mathematics and English. I told myself that this would help me do better at school."