NEIRAB, Syria, 27 August 2009 – During six days of intensive sessions in Neirab, 20 Palestinian adolescents attending a recent UNICEF 'training of trainers' workshop learned various techniques for mobilizing young people to become more involved in their communities.
"I didn't know that being a trainer was such a demanding activity," said Khalid, 15. "But I am happy. Education is our window to the world."
Khalid, a Palestinian from Neirab camp near Aleppo, explained that he attended the workshop to improve his interpersonal skills and to make a difference in his community.
Two camps, one goal
The workshop participants were brought together from two Palestinian camps – in Neirab and Homs – so the sessions also gave them an opportunity to get to know each other.
"I learned from my 'Homsi' friends how to laugh, to be positive and easy-going," said Ghurfan, 17, from Neirab. "Although our realities are very different, I feel that together we can do things better."
According to trainer Obada Jabban, such interactions between Palestinian adolescents can have a strong psycho-social impact. "Differences between the camps can be discussed and the problems solved by drawing on each other's experience," Mr. Jabban explained.
'Training of trainers' workshops represent an important shift towards empowering Palestinian youths to achieve goals in personal and social development – and to take on more responsibilities within their communities.
The workshops bring together adolescents from the Palestinian camps who are the most active young people in their communities. Youth workers select participants on the basis of their personality, commitment, and communication and leadership skills.
The training programme, in turn, offers teenagers a chance to assume a more influential position in their communities.
Life skills workshop
"When I started with the [workshops], parents were asking me what am I going to do with their children, what is all this training for?" said Mr. Jabban. "Now they are asking when they can bring their kids to the centre, because their neighbours' children have become famous in the camp as trainers."
Inspired by their relatives, friends and peer trainers, the number of adolescents wanting to follow the trainers' path increases every year.
"I attended the life skills workshop and I saw that the trainers had outstanding, strong personalities," said Basma, 15, from the Homs camp. "I wanted to be like them, and here I am."
'I like to help my people'
The high level of adolescent participation in this process is characteristic feature of Palestinian communities.
"When you look at any other society, the leaders, usually adults, are very distant from the young generation," noted Mr. Jabban. "In Palestinian camps, the leaders are young and available. They are like any other adolescent, so you can easily learn from them."
The manager of the community centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Neirab, Qasim Habib, said adolescents play "a crucial part in the life of the community – from volunteering in the rehabilitation centre to running life skills training for their peers."
Added Asmahan, 21, a Palestinian youth worker from Homs: "By giving this training ... we give more ideas about how to live, how to cope with the reality."
But the main motivation is often much simpler for the young people, like Khalid, who participate in the training programme.
"I like to help my people," said Khalid.