CMCs: Creating Opportunities for Children
By Mariam Al-Tal
NABLUS 15 March 2005 - For 15-year old Wala’, traveling the short distance from the West Bank city of Nablus to Jenin was more that simply meeting children of her own age group. It also meant coming face to face for the first time ever with one of many checkpoints that dot the West Bank.
On a sunny Monday morning in February 2005, Wala’ woke up early to get ready for her long awaited trip out of Nablus. While waiting for her friend Niveen, she put on her beige blouse with red stripes, black pants, and veil. With Wala’s father they walked through the tight alleys of Ein camp and continue in a taxi to Nablus municipality. A blue striped bus was waiting to drive them to Jenin. As soon as Wala’ got off the bus with Niveen, she was greeted by her colleagues who were also elected for the Nablus Children’s Municipality Council (CMC).
Being a refugee, whose family was uprooted from Akka, Wala’ lives in Camp Number One or Ein Camp - one of three in the Nablus area. Wala’ is the oldest child in her family. Her younger sister, 12-year-old Raghda, was very happy for Wala’, while her two younger brothers Salah and Ahmed felt jealous. “How come Wala’ gets to go to Jenin and not I,” said 13 year old Salah.
Because of the checkpoints, a drive that normally takes one hour now takes almost two-and-half. Once they arrived at Beit Iba checkpoint, all the adolescent passengers were asked to pass through the checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers. When Wala’s turn came she looked at the soldier with big brown eyes full of fear. “I was so scared, yet at the same time, I wanted to know what it meant to pass through a checkpoint. It was my first time ever passing by two soldiers at a checkpoint, pointing their guns at me.”
It was 930am when the bus arrived at the Jenin Municipal Council building. Excited voices, laughter and greetings filled the cavernous hall. All children were happy to meet each other. But for Wala’, getting out of Ein camp for the first time in over four years, she was determined to learn as much as possible from her colleagues’ two-year experience in the CMC.
Said Wala’: “I really wanted to know what the work a CMC entails. I also wanted to know what is expected of the mayor of the CMC, because I really would like to be elected as a Mayor of the Nablus CMC.”
The day passed by very fast – with discussions, questions and answers and exchange of ideas between the adolescents of both CMCs – Jenin and Nablus. Wala’s mother, as well as parents of other children, was constantly calling their children to make sure they were safe. It wasn’t until 5pm that group returned to Nablus.
The December 2004 Nablus CMC elections elected 44 CMC members out of a pool of 158 candidates. Wala’ remembers her election campaign. With the help of her family, she prepared campaign leaflets and distributed them widely in her school.
One of her famous slogans was: “If you want your voices to be heard, if you want a change, if you want safe playgrounds, and if you want new projects for children, vote for me.”
During the period of her campaign, Wala’s father used to tease her and call her ‘Abu Mazen’ - the name of the newly elected Palestinian President - as the Nablus CMC coincided with the Palestinian Presidency election campaign.
As of March 2005, UNICEF lent support to the establishment of six CMCs involving more than 210 adolescents, 12-16 years old. The total number of CMCs will increase to eight by April 2005.
CMCs are meant to be the voice of children, a tool for change and means for equality. It provides adolescents with opportunities to participate peacefully in their society. Adolescents are able to influence decision makers at the municipality level; they are able to contribute towards making their cities more child friendly.
The CMC project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for the total amount of USD 2.5 million for a three year period.
Mariam Al-Tal is the UNICEF oPt Zonal Officer in Nablus