East Jerusalem – Growing up in East Jerusalem is not easy. According to a recent study, 65 per cent of the population – including some 95,000 children – live under the poverty line. Political tensions produce violence and interfere with a healthy, productive childhood. According to city data, half of post-elementary age children drop out of school.
In response to this crisis, UNICEF is teaming up with its partners to give a more prominent voice to adolescents in East Jerusalem.
Support and Inspiration
Bilal, 13, used to skip school. He was tired of teachers who shouted at students. But after participating in the UNICEF-supported ‘Adolescent-Friendly Spaces’ programme, which provides remedial classes at a local community centre, Bilal started to enjoy school again. “Here at the centre, they care about us,” he said.
“We don’t want the kids in the streets, where they might pick up bad habits and be subjected to violence,” explained Marwan al-Ghoul, a board member at the centre that Bilal attends. But even beyond safety and protection, the centre is providing something children in this challenging environment need – inspiration.
“Young people are enthusiastic, dedicated and creative. They have a lot of skills,” said UNICEF Special Representative in Jerusalem Jean Gough. “Together we can secure a better life for Palestinian children.”
‘I Want to Live in Peace’
At Adolescent-Friendly Spaces sites around the region, UNICEF and its partners provide a variety of services to young people, including:
Eyad, another boy who attends the community centre, wants to grow up to be a lawyer or a journalist so that he can defend the rights of his community. He lives in Silwan, a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that is riddled with political tension. Eyad says his hopes and dreams are influenced by the difficult region he calls home.
“I want to live in peace, like other kids in the world,” he said.
Through several UNICEF programmes, young residents of East Jerusalem are confronting the city’s problems head-on. According to a report issued earlier this year by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, more than half (about 160,000) of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have no suitable and legal connection to the public water network, and some 50 km of sewage lines have yet to be constructed.
In Silwan, a team of young researchers tested the neighbourhood’s water quality, as well as that of water taps from three East Jerusalem sites. The project was part of a ‘young researchers’ programme, sponsored by UNICEF and its local non-governmental partner, al-Nayzak for Extracurricular Education.
In a similar project in Ramallah governorate’s Silwad village, another team worked with their village council to develop a water treatment plant that would improve water quality after their tests showed that tap water was infected with bacteria and other pollutants.
“I learned that the water in our faucets is not necessarily good,” said Abu, one young water activist in Silwad. “I felt I was doing something – not just sitting here. I felt I really got involved.”