Interview with Jumana Haj-Ahmad, UNICEF Development and Participation of Adolescents Programme, Occupied Palestinian Territory, June 2002
Q. Can you introduce us to the LSBE Initiative in OPT?
UNICEF is working with the Palestinian Authority and non-governmental organizations to help adolescents acquire critical skills that will enable them to adopt healthy life styles, and further develop and deal with the complex and multiple challenges of the rapidly changing situation in the Palestinian society. This initiative will enable adolescents to participate in their communities and develop "skills for life" that allow them to be actors of change in the Palestinian society. We are trying to reach young people through the formal education system as well as out of school, for example, through summer camps. We need to reach those most marginalized, like adolescent girls in rural areas, victims of violence and abuse and adolescents at risk for risky behaviours such as substance abuse.
Q. How is the conflict situation affecting the lives of young Palestinians?
Young people are feeling stress, frustration and hopelessness because the conflict is limiting their opportunities now, and for the future. For young children, it is even difficult to go to school, to play, do sports or recreational activities. In a recent discussion with adolescents, one young woman who has just finished high school said, "I don't see a future for myself. Curfews and closures limit our mobility and I can't even get to university, so options are not available to me."
We must try to help young people deal as positively as possible with this frustration, to cope when they lose a close one, and also to deal with fears and anxiety during military incursions. We also want to encourage them to refrain from violent acts themselves, despite what they witness around them. Making opportunities available for adolescents through LSBE formal and non-formal projects has been tremendously effective in providing adolescents with an outlet for their frustration, stress and anxiety.
Q. What are the greatest challenges you face trying to implement life skills-based education in a conflict situation?
There are so many challenges in this situation. The restrictions on mobility in addition to the non-contiguous areas limit co-ordination and communication from the central level and between the districts themselves. So, most activities are decentralised which maybe viewed as a positive outcome; however, it limits monitoring capacity at the central level.
Furthermore, availability of highly qualified trained staff in the 17 districts is limited, and, because of the restrictions on mobility, access of trained staff from the central level to the districts becomes a challenge.
It is also very difficult to plan, with military incursions stopping activities at any point. Earlier this year, recurrent curfews in different areas during different periods of time prevented many of the planned activities from taking place. Many of the planned meetings and workshops had to be rescheduled, and it hindered continuity of our efforts.
Q. How have you tried to overcome those challenges?
Regarding the issue of availability of trained staff at the district level, we tried to compensate by creating training materials centrally, for use at each district level, so there is consistency across districts. Also, we supported centralised 'Training of Trainers' workshops where two to three representatives from each district were trained to use these manuals. For quality control, we developed a monitoring system where the trained staff reports regularly to the central staff. We have also developed monitoring sheets asking about psycho-social and life skills elements, so we can know if all districts are addressing the same elements. For example, the monitoring sheet used in the summer camps was modelled on the CRC-based National Declaration on Summer Camps, agreed by the government, non-governmental organizations, and young people themselves last year.
In addition, we rely on non-governmental organizations to help implement programmes at the district level.
Q. How have you personally handled such challenging working conditions?
I sometimes feel so frustrated with all these difficulties, like when plans keep changing or getting postponed. But, I see UNICEF's role as very important in this situation. Remembering that and the smile on the children's faces once the activities are implemented, and the persistence of our counterparts to find alternative solutions to each problem, encourages me to continue.