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Music inspires adolescents in Jenin refugee camp

© UNICEF oPt/2009/Magnusdottir
From left to right, Aws Al Sadi, Qais Saxxour, and Majd Al Sadi are playing musical instruments

West Bank, Jenin, June 2009- In the middle of overcrowded Jenin refugee camp stands a UNICEF-supported adolescent friendly learning centre, its worn out façade belying the bustle of activity within. As sounds of beating drums and keyboard melodies waft down from the second floor, a small group of teenagers rush down the staircase, chatting excitedly among themselves.
Aws Al Sadi, Qais Saxxour, and Majd Al Sadi, all 15 years old, have been coming to the adolescent friendly learning centre for two years. They always head directly for the music corner, where they play with instruments such as the traditional ‘tabla’ drum, and keyboards.  “I can’t imagine not playing music anymore,” Aws said. “Without it, I don’t know what I would do.”

Many local musicians have left the area and the centre has been unable to hire a full-time music instructor so Aws, Qais and Majd are feeding their hunger for music via the internet at the centre’s IT lab. They’ve now formed their own band, ‘Noujoum Al Layl’ (The Night Stars), and are offering lessons to their peers.

Offering life-skills education and recreation for adolescents
Adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 comprise around 11 per cent of the population in oPt, and are frequently exposed to the frontline of the conflict with Israel, as well as violence on the streets. In 2008, 80 per cent of children killed in conflict were adolescents; and the vast majority of Palestinian children being held in Israeli detention facilities are between 15 and 17 years old. Most young people report anxiety, poor performance in school and aggressive behaviour as their main symptoms of stress. 

UNICEF-supported adolescent friendly learning centres are working to expand learning, recreational and civic participation opportunities for this particularly vulnerable age group. Each of 73 centres across the West Bank and Gaza is equipped with a computer lab, sports and music equipment, stationary and art supplies and library books. The centres also support adolescent-led campaigns to prevent peers from dropping out of school; to promote reading; and to advocate for ending violence.

“In the two years since the centre has been operational, I’ve seen these young people become less prone to violence, and more able to communicate with each other and to adults,” said Naim Sadi, UNICEF Jenin Field Officer. “They’ve learned critical skills – team work, respect, self-confidence – that will last them a lifetime.”

© UNICEF oPt/2009/Magnusdottir
Aws Al Sadi, Qais Saxxour, and Majd Al Sadi

Music transports us away from here
Aws, Qais and Majd were five years old when the second Intifada erupted in 2000. They can remember, but just barely, a time when they could travel freely to the beach 40 minutes away, or visit the cinemas and cultural spaces in nearby Jerusalem.

Today, conflict and occupation affect all aspects of their lives. The more than 600 obstacles to internal Palestinian movement across the West Bank block more than the physical movement of people and goods, the boys say, but stifle creativity and dreams as well. Music, for these boys, is a ticket to a place far away from checkpoints, violence and politics.

When asked about their dreams for the future, they sit in silence. After some thought, they all say that they want to be music stars.  “What all of us want, more than anything else, is to be like adolescents everywhere else around the world,” said Aws. “We want to be free to live, to hope, to dream.”



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