By Anika Folkeson
DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 26 March 2009 – In the refugee camps of Syria, life for Palestinian adolescents is challenging. Although better off than many in the region—with civil rights almost equal to those of Syrian citizens—poverty, violence and alcoholism are common. Adolescents often lack opportunities to develop important skills relevant to life outside of the camps.
In 2004, UNICEF started a life skills programme to help these young people develop their creative and critical thinking, self-awareness, problem-solving and communication skills. The programme currently operates within the adolescent-friendly spaces in the Palestinian camps, but UNICEF hopes to expand it to the Syrian curriculum.
Teaching life skills requires a rethinking of the conventional teaching approaches commonly used in the Syrian educational system.
UNICEF Officer Mohammad Kanawati explains: “Students just go to class and listen to the professor, there is no interaction. Life skills turn you into an active participant.”
The training begins with a four-day introduction, during which team building and problem solving techniques are introduced. Students then collaborate on projects that require them to apply their new skills.
Sa’eed, 18, participated in an ‘action research’ project focused on smoking.
“I didn’t know what ‘action research’ was,” explained Sa’eed. “But it’s really simple; you just identify a problem and the group comes up with solutions together.”
‘It’s like waking up’
Raneem, 16, examined the problem of abuse within her society: “I started seeing abuse everywhere in my society and I understood that it had made me depressed and sad.”
Once Raneem identified the reasons for the abuse, she learned how to better deal with the problem. She developed a new perspective on her society, and has been inspired to become a psychologist. She wants to help other children in the camps.
Many of the approximately 400 adolescents who have participated in the life skills programme have become trainers. Raneem has already started training other children, and pushes hard for integrating the life-skills approach into the regular school curriculum.
“It’s not just all the new friends you meet, or the fun projects you do,” Raneem said. “You become aware of yourself, understand your thoughts and feelings, and start seeing your society. It’s like waking up.”