Palestinian adolescents drive positive change
For 16-year-old Muna, participating in a debate with policy makers is critical in making a positive change in the lives of adolescents and young people in the State of Palestine.
By Monica Awad
Nablus, State of Palestine, 27 March 2017 – For 16-year-old Muna, participating in a debate with policy makers is critical in making a positive change in the lives of adolescents and young people in the State of Palestine.
She is one of several adolescents who participated in a training session supported by UNICEF to improve their skills for civic engagement.
Seated at a rectangular table with three of her peers, opposite a group of Palestinian policy makers, Muna was energized and keen on promoting her initiative.
“I want to hold policy makers and the private sector accountable,” she says. “They need to provide us with opportunities to enable us to make a positive change in our society.”
Following the training, Muna and her team developed an innovative project benefiting their school: the adolescents managed to convince a land owner to lend them his olive grove, which they harvested, after which they sold its crop. The proceeds were used to purchase 25 electrical heaters for their school and protect their fellow students from the winter cold.
“I realized that our initiative could be expanded, provided support is secured from policy makers,” Muna says
“I learnt a lot. Now I feel able to dialogue with policy makers, and to hold them accountable for the future employability of young people in the Nablus area,” she adds.
The training, funded by UNICEF’s Global Thematic Education Fund, helps strengthen adolescents’ ‘4Cs’ – the skills they need in communication, critical thinking, cooperation and creativity to succeed in the 21st century. It is implemented by Palestinian NGO Palvision.
“With partners, we develop adolescents’ critical skills and competencies to help them positively engage in their society, exercise leadership and become engaged in the development of their communities ,” says Maida Pasic, UNICEF’s Chief of the Learning for Development Programme in the State of Palestine.
Sixteen-year-old Sharaf, another adolescent on the panel, was also trying to hold policy makers accountable and requesting them to support his team’s initiative, which aims at promoting tourism in the State of Palestine.
As part of a team of 15 adolescents, Sharaf came up with the idea to develop a machine that could guide people to the touristic sites of Sebastia, near the West Bank city of Nablus. The village is home to Sharaf and to several major historical and archeological sites, including a Crusader Church, an Ottoman Old City and a Roman-era forum, theatre, hippodrome and several temples and palaces. The site currently does not include any signs or explanations, but Sharaf thinks it could attract a large number of visitors once the machine is functional.
“This machine acts like a vending machine, where people insert coins to learn about each of the archeological sites in three different languages: Arabic, English and French” says Sharaf in a confident voice.
Fostering a culture of accountability
On behalf of the team, Sharaf negotiated with students from the electronic department at Al Najah University to design the machine and submit it for the patent. He submitted a proposal requesting financial support from various official entities, including the private sector.
His project was among those which were presented during a public debate at Al Quds University, and it was well received by the Palestinian officials and representatives of the private sector who attended it.
“We at the Municipality of Nalus welcome adolescents’ debates. It allows them to better engage with us and helps us in better meeting their needs,” says Zuheir Al Dubei, who represents the Municipality of Nablus.
The one and a half-hour debate was very engaging for students, providing them with opportunities not only to present their initiatives and seek support, but also to pose difficult but relevant questions to policy makers. Many adolescents had questions on corporate social responsibility in the private sector, on the importance of engaging adolescents in decision-making processes, and in providing them with entrepreneurship skills to boost their future employability.
“Adolescence is an age of opportunity, and it is an age that faces multiple challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and globalization, “says Pasic.“It is a pivotal time to build on adolescents’ development to enable them to navigate risks, setting them on the right path towards building a better world.”