|© Steve Sabella|
|Nadera Soufan, age 14, winner at the CMC elections|
NABLUS, West Bank, oPt, 16 December 2004 - Hundreds of children in the West Bank city of Nablus have completed voting in elections for a new Children’s Municipality Council (CMC). The CMCs are one of the flagship projects of UNICEF in oPt, involving hundreds of children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as numerous mayors, parents, teachers, trainers and headmasters.
CMCs mirror city councils and allow adolescents to make practical decisions over issues affecting their lives – from the size of classrooms and the location of a pedestrian crossing to trash collection and water conservation.
In short, they formalize children’s participation in city life.
UNICEF provides both technical and financial assistance to the Councils, along with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) which provides additional funding for the project. Between now and February, more than 45,000 children aged 12-16 will participate in open elections to establish five new CMCs.
The elections will be held in Khan Younis, Hebron and Tubas – bringing to nine the total number of CMCs in oPt. In existing cities – Jenin, Jericho, Gaza and Rafah – the CMCs have designed and implemented six small-scale community projects benefiting more than 25,000 children.
Because more than 50 per cent of the population of oPt is less than 18 years old, local mayors are challenged by the need to provide facilities and services for this large constituency. This is where the CMCs come in.
They generate small-scale community projects designed to bring about positive change for children; they meet regularly with municipal leaders, organize awareness campaigns on children’s rights and issues, and arrange local elections for schoolchildren.
CMC’s bolster children’s self-confidence
In an environment like oPt where curfews, closures and incursions are a fact of life for many children, CMCs help to give children a sense of empowerment.
“I get a lot of benefits from this experience. It helps boost my self confidence,” said Asil Fityani, the 15-year-old mayor of the CMC in Jericho, the first ever established in oPt five years ago.
Before voting takes place, parents, teachers and children participate in an information session on elections and campaigns. In the West Bank city of Nablus, students from 22 schools, grades 7 through 10, voted. Before assuming any elected positions, all CMC members will spend 40 hours training in such areas as communications skills, human rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The children are very, very excited as this is a new experience for them,” said Liana Taher, of the Palestinian Children’s Rights Coalition, as she watched children cast their votes in Nablus on Thursday.
Outside the classroom where incoming votes were being painstakingly counted by hand, campaign posters plastered the walls – some even sporting English and French language slogans.
Linda Jaber and Dima Al-Kilani, served as student advisers in one of the schools on Thursday. Both said they hope the newly established CMC will help bring new facilities and activities for children in Nablus, where incursions and curfews occur with an alarming frequency.
“As teenagers we need places to go after school. All we do now is just study,” said Linda. The two explained that last year alone, Nablus was paralyzed by five closures ordered by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Two years ago Linda’s house was temporarily occupied by 40 soldiers.
Across town, 14-year-old Naderah Makerem Zouher Soufan was beaming after winning the CMC elections in her school. The eighth grader campaigned on an ambitious platform of promising more facilities for kids.
“Because we live under occupation we need all kinds of facilities in sports and recreation. We need these things because often times it seems we have no hope,” she said.
To underscore her point, Naderah led a group of visitors to her school’s computer lab to point out aging computers which are slow and have no Internet connection.
The children plan to advertise their work as council members on a dedicated web page for the CMC at http://www.jericho-city.org/jcmc.html.