Voices of Children

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Recycling waste and spreading the word, Nablus students remake their surroundings

NABLUS, 13 June 2008 - On a table in the Hajj Ali al-Tibi Girls Elementary School sits a child’s vision of a ravaged environment – mounds of dirt cluttered with garbage, cigarette butts, plastic tanks and toy soldiers.

Sdjal Kina, 12, points to the contrasting ideal – a paper model of clean, organized streets and attractively-painted buildings. “I don’t think our world looks like this – in fact it is just the opposite.”

Her city of Nablus, home to 130,000 in the occupied West Bank, has struggled with Israeli military incursions and encroaching Israeli checkpoints that limit access and economic growth.

But a district-wide exhibition put together by some 100 student parliament members from 30 different schools with UNICEF-supported environmental after-school clubs showed how they envision change.

Club members set out to remake old and discarded things into objects of beauty. A small set of drawers was fitted together from glued ice-cream sticks, and used tires were cut and painted into bright planters.

“The project had so many benefits,” says 14-year-old Wada’ Naibeh, her eyes shining. “Instead of throwing things away, we learned to use them to make pretty things and games.”

Most of the recycled items were created from a year’s worth of discarded paper collected in trash bins at school and home, explains the health club vice-president.
The student exhibition tackles more than the surroundings, however. Another section focuses on improving student health. Cola is bad for the body, exhibits warn, and a toothbrush holder crafted from wood and other found objects reminds users of the importance of clean teeth.

Many West Bank schools have been closed periodically due to military curfews since the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000. In the first three months of this year, the Nablus area experienced 221 hours of military curfew, more than one-quarter of the curfew hours in the entire occupied West Bank, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Teacher strikes have also shut school doors, as the government struggles to pay wages.

Nevertheless, the school hosting this exhibition is clean and new and has managed to remain open every day this academic year, due both to its location high on the hills at the edge of town and the dedication of its staff.

Its teachers and administrators used UNICEF and Ministry of Education-supported “Child-Friendly Schools” concepts emphasising child participation, health and safety awareness, and community involvement as they worked with the students and their exhibition on the environment.

“For me, the importance of this is in bringing normalcy back to the schools with after school programs” that were abandoned in times of rising violence, says UNICEF project officer Basima Ahed-Ahmad.

UNICEF, with funding from the Netherlands, supported 240 after-school clubs in 190 schools across hard-hit areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The clubs either focused on the environment, science, sports or arts. Each after-school club was funded with $2,600 a semester for training, trips and supplies.
Educators say that girls have been particularly active in the clubs, and eager to pass on information to their peers. “I not only want to be educated, but I also want to teach the younger kids,” says Sara Kurih, 15.

One focus of the exhibition is the dangers of eating junk food and smoking cigarettes and Zaina Manesh, 13, is clearly disappointed that her father is a smoker.
“I can’t really tell him not to,” she says, “but I can tell him all the reasons why he shouldn’t smoke.”

On the side, a number of metal and plastic objects make up a frightening display. The various unexploded ordinance (UXOs) include hand grenades and pipe bombs obtained from the Palestinian police. These decommissioned remnants of war are meant to educate the students about the appearance of potentially lethal discarded objects.
“The soldiers throw things that are dangerous, and kids pick them up and are injured,” says budding playwright Majd Bakri. To illustrate the problem, Bakri, 14, and five of her peers wrote and conducted a puppet show in which a boy is wounded by an explosive device.
“This is what we live,” says the outspoken Bakri.
Three months ago, Bakri’s brother was maimed when he picked up what looked like a pipe lying in the street. The 18-year-old lost his hand after the object exploded.

Another student participant, Hamdi al-Jamal, 13, was three years old when his playmate picked up a UXO, thinking it was a toy. The boy was killed in the subsequent explosion. “My family told me how he died and that is how I learned that I should not pick up strange objects in the street - that they can contain drugs or explosives.”

Between January 2007 and March 2008, UXOs have killed seven children, all in Gaza, and injured 27 in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance violate nearly all the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: a child’s right to life, to a safe environment in which to play, to health, clean water, sanitary conditions and adequate education. The OPT is one of 30 countries and territories where UNICEF has undertaken mine action, emphasising education and support for their victims.

By putting on what they called Nablus’ first puppet show, these students said they hoped to teach other young people the dangers of explosive remnants of war. At the same time, their family of hand-crafted puppets demonstrates how to make art from discarded scraps from home.




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