Young Palestinians take on violence in schools
By Marixie Mercado
JERUSALEM, 30 August 2006 - Take 30 Palestinian students; put them in a bright, airy classroom for a week during their summer holidays; train them to run an advocacy campaign – and what do they say?
How important it is to get a good education, and how the violence and poverty that surrounds them is undercutting this basic right.
Across the 17 districts in Gaza and the West Bank, students have been learning the nuts and bolts of running a child rights advocacy campaign. For them, it is more than an academic exercise.
Over the coming weeks, each group will choose a child rights issue they’ve decided they want action on. During the school year, they will use the skills they have learned to convince community leaders to act on their behalf.
Here at Sharja primary school in Qalqilya, a town in the northern West Bank entirely encircled by the barrier separating Israel from the occupied Palestinian territory, the students said they wanted to do something about the way the ongoing violence was making itself felt in their schools and on their educations. According to a 2006 study, almost half (45 per cent) of Palestinian students are exposed to violence in schools.
“The external violence is affecting relationships in schools, between teachers and students and between students themselves,” said Hasem Alshair, a trainer and former school counselor. Teachers themselves were overwhelmed by conflict-induced stress, and were behaving aggressively with students. “It’s hurting children,” Alshair said.
Ibraham Jameel said up to a third of students at his school in the nearby town of Khalet Yaseem were dropping out, with violence as the key cause, after poverty.
“Even verbal violence” could really damage children, said Lamees Moeen, 16. “Are we here to learn or to be insulted?”
Dana Smeek, 17 and in her final year, said a number of students had lost their fathers in the fighting. Many more parents were unemployed, and some families could not afford the cost of school fees and supplies, particularly if there was more than one child. Poorer students were often excluded or marginalized, which hurt their grades, she said.
“New graduates are having a hard time finding jobs – but that doesn’t change the importance of getting an education,” Smeek said.
UNICEF strongly supports the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s Back to School campaign, with the goal of bringing children and their teachers back to their classrooms when schools re-open in September. UNICEF targets vulnerable children with assistance such as uniforms and schools supplies, and provides schools with teaching, learning and recreational material. A major component of the campaign includes training in making schools more child-friendly. Funding has been provided by the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People, the Governments of Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada, as well as the UK National Committee for UNICEF and the UN Trust Fund for Human Security.