Nine Months, Nine Lives: Bait Al Thaqafa
The Greenbelt Campaign, seeking to draw attention to the situation in the Holy Land, is in its third year. We're going to spend some time on the blog looking at why we're running the campaign, what it has accomplished to date, what's still to be done, and how you can get involved. We're going to post nine blogs - one a month between January and September - in a series called Nine Months, Nine Lives, which will highlight how the situation has touched people's lives both in the UK and in the Middle East.
Children in the Gaza Strip have been affected by violent conflict physically, psychologically and socio-economically. They also face significant pressures to become enrolled within armed groups, and the conflict has affected their opportunities in life and attitudes towards society. With half of the 1.4 million people in Gaza being under the age of 18, Bait al Thaqafa aim to support the population of the region to reduce the impact of conflict upon these children.
Located within Khan Younis, a refugee camp of more than 200,000 people, the project gives children and young people access to basic educational and recreational opportunities, fostering essential life skills to enable them to cope with the effects of conflict through communication and non violence.
Greenbelt has supported Bait al Thaqafa to give children access to educational and social activities aimed at helping overcome the effects of conflict, enabling those children to be active in rebuilding communities and creating a more positive future. It aims to achieve this through leadership training (communications skills, moderation, coordination, children’s rights, and the use of art in expressing opinions and issues), drama and puppetry, painting and exhibitions, radio programmes, photography and film workshops, and workshops on advocacy. In the long-term, the project wishes to improve understanding in approaches to working with children affected by armed conflicts.
And the project has already had much success. One example is a young girl called Shatha.
Shatha is twelve. She was referred to the project after a school counsellor noticed that she easily lost focus on her studies, and that she was isolated from her fellow pupils. It was discovered that her father had died when she was young, and did not have a supportive family atmosphere to help her get over this loss. Shatha was enrolled in the Psychosocial Support Programme, where she was supported by project staff and other children. She gradually began to recover her self-esteem, feeling safe within the project environment, and began to express her inner feelings, thoughts and fears through drama and theatre, narrative expression and storytelling and other activities. Shatha’s family have noticed the difference, as she became more confident and outgoing, and Shatha has now become a young leader, ready to continue with her plans for the future.
Shatha’s story is by no means an isolated event. Programmes Manager Hussam Shehada has seen the impact that the programme can make in the lives of individual children:
I once had the chance to facilitate a discussion and debate on child-parent relationships, when parents and their children came on stage to discuss social issues and behaviors, like quarrels at home for example. I asked Mahmoud, one of the young teenagers, to help me facilitate the discussion and encourage the audience to participate in the discussion. When the debate started, the audience was listening but was not taking part. When I asked Mahmoud to do something to encourage them to speak, he stepped down from stage and started walking among the audience, asking them questions about their names and why they are there. He warmed them up and a few seconds later, the full audience were extremely motivated to participate in the discussions. It was so much fun to see how that young leader Mahmoud could catch the attention of the whole audience and encourage them to speak out during the discussions.
Another story I have is about a group of young girls who are full of life and enthusiastic about life and the future. The girls were sitting in a circle discussing about community work, trying to find an idea to raise with their community. It was clear that the girls had something to offer but their thoughts were not clear. A CFTA facilitator came alongside the group and helped them come up with an idea. Their example inspires me a lot - they were lost in the beginning, not knowing what to do and then step by step with a little bit of support they managed to achieve a wonderful job and help themselves and help others, too.
Trust Greenbelt donations from the Sunday Communion service and online throughout the year help support the pioneering work of this organisation, as they do great things to comfort and encourage children in some of the toughest circumstances in the world. We hope that our continuing support of this organisation dovetails neatly with the aims of the Just Peace campaign, looking at the effects of the ongoing conflict, whilst attempting to find justice for all in the Holy Land.
For more information, resources and to keep in touch with the campaign, go to greenbelt.org.uk/campaign
For more on what Christian Aid is doing in Gaza, see the CA website.