Real Lives

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West Bank children get breathing space

© UNICEF oPt/2009
“Your life is limited by what is here,” says Muhanned Abu Libdeh, 15.

TULKAREM, WEST BANK, 13 May 2009 - In Tulkarem refugee camp in the northern West Bank, the sound of raucous music fills a youth club. More than a dozen boys pound away on drums and shake castanets while a teacher plays an electronic keyboard.

It’s a rare release for these young people living just 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of the major Palestinian city of Nablus, and an equal distance from the Israeli coastal town of Netanya.

Tulkarem is separated from Israel by the barrier that Israel is constructing in and around the West Bank, while its access to the rest of the West Bank is controlled by Israeli checkpoints.  Travel to Israel is virtually off-limits, and difficult even to other West Bank cities. Unemployment has soared due to the conflict with Israel and access and movement restrictions, and by 2008, half of Palestinian families were living in poverty, according to UNDP.

 “Life here has a lot of pressure – economic, social and personal,” explains Nooreddin Amara, 14. “The economy is usually very bad. There is a lot of unemployment.” And, he said explaining how overcrowded the camps were, “here is the club, and here is a house. If I make any noise at all, they can hear it.”

“The camp is small,” says Muhanned Abu Libdeh, 15, a youth representative of the management committee at the Tulkarem after-school programme. “Your life is limited by what is here.”

Creating space
UNICEF support gives these young people more choices. In Tulkarem UNICEF funding provided by the Italian Cooperation has helped thousands of adolescents to make music, play sports, take fine arts, improve their math and Arabic, and learn important life skills.

Similar adolescent-friendly learning centers are implemented by UNICEF partners Tamer Institute and Ma’an Development Centre across the West Bank and Gaza. Some 5,000 boys and girls have participated in the ongoing two-month programme in Tulkarem. In 2008, the centres reached over 44,000 adolescents living in conflict-affected areas with much-needed support.

“It’s a simple programme, but so necessary,” says Tamar representative Zakia Masoud. “There is no garden here, no places to relax, and the center has filled that gap.”

Books open doors in the Beit Dajan enclave
On the other side of Nablus, the military checkpoint leading to the village of Beit Dajan is closed each night. Behind it, almost 15,000 residents must wait until sunrise to leave the area.

Despite these restrictions, something exciting is happening in Beit Dajan.

Once a week, 25 sixth and seventh grade girls meet after school to talk about reading and books. When they go home, they take a book with them to share with their families.

On a recent afternoon, approximately 30 girls sat coloring next to open picture books in the Beit Dajan library.  They were eager to share what they had learned in their reading.

Noor Ikram, 14, said her favorite book was one on how bodies work like machines. Another girl, Rana Bahjat, 13, held up a cardboard three-dimensional illustration of her favorite story. A princess sat on a paper balcony, ready to defeat a dragon and save her friends.

“Before the programme, they barely entered the library,” says the school’s librarian, Firial Hammad, smiling. “Now they love it.” She wants to expand the programme, saying that more students want to participate. Right now, she doesn’t have enough chairs and tables to fit them all in the room.

“They can read everything,” says Hammad. “Their parents are so excited – they’re even more interested in reading than in completing their studies.”

The UNICEF-supported programme promoting literacy targets children living in especially vulnerable areas across the West Bank and Gaza.  UNICEF has provided over 12,000 books to 50 libraries in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to stationery items.  UNICEF support also includes incentives paid to teachers to run the after - school activities, which are intended to reach over 1,500 children between 10 and 12 years-old each week.



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