JERUSALEM -- Whirling and stamping, his feet carrying him through the steps of the traditional Palestinian ‘Dabkeh’ dance, Hamoudeh Rantisi, 11, smiles out at the audience.
“I love to dance,” he said before the performance. “When I dance I express my feelings and hopes for the future.”
Celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – which was designated by the UN General Assembly in 1977 – UNICEF and its partners supported a range of activities throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory late last month.
Touching Hearts and Minds
More than 800 people attended each of two performances by Barem El Founoun, a group for budding young Dabkeh dancers like Rantisi, held in Ramallah and Jenin in the West Bank.
“It is in the hearts and minds of children that we must instil from the earliest age a respect for diversity, solidarity, tolerance and non-violence,” said UNICEF Special Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Jean Gough.
In Gaza, some 900 people attended an operetta presented by 40 adolescents at the Rashad El Shawwa Cultural Centre. The young performers came from the 20 UNICEF-supported family centres, where they had received weeks of training in singing, dancing and theatre performance. The centres are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department and the Bank of Palestine.
“This was a great experience for me,” said Lara Daher, 12. “I spent 26 days learning how to dance to different lyrics and tunes – thanks to my family centre, which provided me with the chance to be a part of this.”
Besides performing, the children also helped write the operetta’s lyrics.
“I enjoyed this experience fully, especially when I saw the audience and the children dancing to the tunes and saw my parents in the audience, who were so happy and proud of me,” said Jihan al Bawah, 13, a singer from the Zaytun Association for Training family centre.
Other activities in the last week of November included a national campaign launched by the 100 UNICEF-supported adolescent-friendly spaces where young Palestinians celebrated their creativity through Dabkeh performances, scout bands and story-telling shows.
Decision-Makers of Tomorrow
Some 3,500 vulnerable and marginalized children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem saw 20 performances of plays by ‘Nakhleh Eshiber,’ a famous Palestinian character who teaches children about their right to education and participation.
At al-Kaabneh school in Area C in the Jordan Valley, children struggle to learn without the proper resources. The school serves 66 students from grades one through nine, all of them members of a nearby Bedouin herding community.
“I want my school to have proper playgrounds, computers, bathrooms, water and electricity like all other schools,” said Reed Ahmad Suleiman, 12, who helps to educate her peers by distributing health education materials and participating in the schools’ radio programme.
“Nothing is more important than the well-being of children,” said Ms. Gough, the UNICEF Special Representative. “They are they are the decision-makers of tomorrow.” Young people also make up about half of the Palestinian population, and as these recent activities demonstrate, they are determined to make their voices heard.