|© UNICEF Jordan/2007|
|Wala (centre) talks to staff and other teens at the Women’s Programmes Centre.|
By Hind-Lara Mango
AQABA, Jordan, 13 July 2007 – “I never dared to stand up and speak out, not even to my father,” recalls Wala, 16. “Now I am very happy. I found a place where people understand me and I understand them.”
Wala is referring to the Women’s Programmes Centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). For the past year, she has been coming to the UNICEF-supported centre located in Jordan’s coastal city of Aqaba.
The centre focuses primarily on developing leadership skills among young people, especially girls. Wala and her friends attend various activities that promote self-expression and healthy living, including HIV prevention. The centre also provides lectures to help youths develop their communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Wala is now a facilitator who trains her peers on the skills she has learned.
Growing up in hardship
Coming to the centre gives Wala relief from the everyday hardships she encounters living in her poverty-stricken village. Despite this, she was daunted by the prospect of interacting with boys.
“The first challenge I faced when joining this centre was the fact that the courses were mixed,” remembers Wala. “In our society this is not heard of.”
Soon, she realized that a girl could speak out and be heard on an equal footing with her male peers.
“I found out that I had a role to play in society,” she says. “And through the communication skills I was taught, I started to interact and deal with people better.”
Not longer shy or afraid
Wala’s mother, Um Hatem, has noticed a positive difference in her daughters since she enrolled two of them in the centre.
“My daughters never wanted to leave the house. They were always in a bad mood and used to fight with each other,” she says. “But now I can see a great change in Wala, she is no longer shy or fears speaking to her father. She no longer stays at home all the time.”
It took Ms. Hatem six months to persuade her husband that it was alright for their daughters to attend these activities with boys.
“I convinced him,” says the proud mother. “I told him that one day the girls would have to leave home and go to university and this would be a good time for them to learn how to interact with boys.”
Along with the Government of Jordan, UNICEF continues to design and implement similar programmes for adolescents, particularly girls. UNICEF is working to give these young people the confidence to express their emotions and, most important, to believe in themselves.