Saturday, November 28, 2020

Qalandiya refugee campís only child centre provides stability amid uncertainty

By Ayesha Khan - May 31, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [child arrests] [Qalandia Refugee Camp] [youth]

“There are things you cannot change here, they are outside your control,” said Hamzah Assaf, an educator and coordinator at the onlychild centre in the Qalandiya refugee camp. “The main problem we face is the checkpoint, it’s right next to us, so when there is a conflict out there we have to close the centre immediately,” he continued. 

The Child Centre was started in 2003 by the community residing within the Qalandiya camp, who sought to create recreational and educational facilities for children under the age of 18 (inclusive of all genders), to address the psychological effects of occupation on the camp's children. By providing educational instructors, a community of peers to assist in identity development, creative outlets, and a computer lab, the centre provides vital social services.


Qalandiya camp is located between Ramallah and Jerusalem, overlooking a settlement and the contentious West Bank wall, with a population of approximately 15,000 within 353 dunums of land. It was established by UNRWA in 1949, by leasing land from Jordan. Currently under the Jerusalem municipality, and subject of Israeli occupation, the camp has a population coming in from about 52 villages and four cities. Its location next to the checkpoint has made it subject to multiple raids and operations, during which children are often targets of detention and arrest by the Israeli military.


Considering that about 41.3 percent of the population in the camp are children aged 14 and under, serving their needs is of utmost importance for the administrators at the Child Centre, who recognise the stark contrast in realities of children growing up in refugee camps in comparison to their counterparts. This sentiment for Assaf is apparent. “If you look around, there are no green spaces or fields for children to play at the camp,” he said, “so our upcoming goal is to make an area where the children can at least come to play and be active, so they can take their mind off this harsh reality.” 


The Palestinian Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Social Affairs provide legal supervision to the Child Centre. Jamal Abu Leil was serving as Director of the centre, until he was placed under administrative detention in 2016. The centre has been functioning with an administrative council, educators, activity coordinators, and volunteers since.


In collaboration with the German organization, GIZ, the camp is aiming to build a library and a studio space for media related projects. Even though resources run scarce at the centre, administrators and educators have managed to have the children partake in activities like, painting, drawing, dabka, poetry, storytelling, sports, and learning how to operate a computer. The centre in collaboration with international organizations has taken the participating children on field trips to historically and culturally relevant sites in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, France, and Italy.

Political rallies, commemoration events for hunger strikers, and cultural activities are a routine for children growing up in Qalandiya camp. For volunteers like, Roni, 30, the purpose of the centre is to address issues regarding traumas caused by child detention and occupation by the Israeli military. “I was 12 when I spent 22 days under investigation for throwing a rock. Once you go to jail, you are more likely to keep going back in. So, for us here at the centre, it is important to provide these children with a sense of stability.

The Child Centre's primary aim is to provide children with a therapeutically creative and educational environment to help them deal with the disenfranchised socio-political engineering that comes about as a result of living in a refugee camp.

According to Roni, “I wake up everyday, and I go to work at the Child Centre, the rehabilitation centre, and the women’s centre - we are a community. Serving your community is the best thing you can do, because our situation here in the camp will not be fixed anytime soon.”



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