Palestinian reality is debated across the globe. However, often by international academics, journalists and politicians. The Danish House in Palestine has invited a number of Palestinians representing different outlooks and areas of expertise to share their perspectives.
Abdullah Kharoub, born 1978, is a project manager and responsible for all international relations at the Yafa Cultural Centre (YCC), a non-profit NGO located in the Balata refugee camp adjacent to the West Bank city of Nablus. He holds a master’s degree in international law from the Southern Federal University in Russia.
What are the aims of your work at the YCC?
“Our main focus is on youth and children. We try to reach as many of the children of Balata as we can. In the camp, there are between 27,000 and 30,000 people, living in a quarter of a square kilometer. The majority of the population are youth – 30 years or younger – and more than half of the youth are under 18. These children have no place to go in the camp after school. There is no garden, no playground, no facilities. In our center, we try to provide them with activities that are different from what they have in the schools.
We also support the formal education with extra classes, like math or Arabic or English, but our main activities are theatre, music, dance and other cultural activities. In 2013, we created a scout group for the children of Balata. Now we have more than 150 members of this group. We’ve also tried an activity like adventure camps where we created a camp in the nature outside Balata and had a tour from the al-Fari’a refugee camp to the Bethlehem area.
Every day, we reach 500 children who are coming to the center. Of these, more than 300 participate in specific activities, and the rest come to use our library or computer lab or join other activities. Besides the cultural activities, we have a psychosocial unit, where we give consultancy and psychosocial support for children and families who have trauma or tension because of the situation here.”
What led you to come and work at the YCC?
“I was born and raised here in the camp and went to UNRWA school here like every refugee until 9th grade. After that, I went to government school in Nablus. In 2003, during the Second Intifada, I left Palestine for the United Arab Emirates and worked there for three years. Then, I moved to Russia and studied there for six years. I never planned to stay in Russia. I wanted to finish my studies there and then come back to Palestine.
When I came back in 2012, I tried to establish a radio station with friends of mine, but we ran into financial difficulties and had to sell the project. In 2013, I started working for the YCC as project coordinator, and the following year I became a project manager and responsible for all international relations. With the work we do here, I think I can give something to the children and youth of Balata. If everyone who can do this kind of work go to Ramallah or the big organizations and no one work in the camp, then it’s a problem. So I’m supporting and helping my people.
After I’ve seen how people live abroad and how children live abroad, I can compare with the lives that children live here. The schools, the safety, and so on. This makes you… you know, I would love to see the children of Balata living like the children in Berlin or Moscow or Dubai.”
How is the situation in the camp now compared to when you grew up?
“In the 90s, the camp was totally different. The violence was not like this, the rate of unemployment was not like this, the poverty was not like this. There were no drugs and alcohol like now, no weapons and guns in the streets like now. After the Second Intifada, everything got worse. Now, every few months, there are problems between families or someone getting killed. It’s 180 degrees different.
Much of this is because of the intifada. It made the unemployment rate very high for many reasons. First of all, Palestinian refugees, especially from the Balata camp, are no longer allowed to go to Israel and work like they used to be. Now only a small number of people could get the permission to work in Israel. Another example is prisoners. Many got arrested during the intifada when they were 15, 16 or 17 years old. They spent 10 years in jail and were then released. Now they have no skills and can’t find a job. They are just sitting in the streets doing nothing.
Also, there are clashes every few days or every one week, mainly between the Israeli army and Palestinians in the camp and the surrounding area. This makes the situation in the camp very difficult. You wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of shooting, the sound bombs, the tear gas and all this. This puts pressure on the people, especially the children.”
How do the problems in the camp affect your work at the YCC?
“The day after the clashes, 90 percent of the children are not coming to the activities, and so we will stop working. The schools will not work either because the parents will be worried and not send their children.
If you go deeper, the main problems for the children are trauma and tension. Also, they start having speaking difficulties. Or they don’t want to go to school because they are afraid. Or they start being more angry or aggressive, and because of this the violence is getting high between the children in the schools. If they play football, they beat and hit each other.
This all needs lot of work, and so our psychosocial team goes to the schools every morning and have sessions with groups of children, with teachers, with families. In this way, we try to support the children.”
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