Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Palestine
What does it mean to be an adolescent and then a young woman growing up in the Palestinian territories? It most likely means the scales of innocence drop from your eyes far more quickly than they should for any child or young adult.
You are exposed to more violence than most adults in a developed country can even imagine. The images and sounds of bombs, rockets, mortar attacks, injuries and people fleeing are interlaced with your childhood memories. You and everyone you know have felt the brunt of the occupation.
Your own career dreams and ambitions may be restricted if you can’t receive the education needed to achieve them through the limited courses offered at the few universities in the Palestinian territories. If you live in the Gaza region and want to take courses not offered at the five local universities—such as those related to dentistry, medical engineering, veterinary medicine, democracy and human rights—you can’t, as you have no access to universities in the West Bank of Palestine because of an Israeli student travel ban.
And the conflict within your community is just as intense as the siege around it. You either are a woman who experiences violence on a regular basis or know some of the Palestinian women who have reported being subjected to such treatment. Since childhood you have watched your parents trying to scrape a decent life together despite the lack of clean water, electricity, proper sanitation and opportunities for recreation. You are a young woman, but you have seen and know of troubles that span a lifetime.
YWCA: A Safe Environment for Women
For nine years United Methodist Women has partnered with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Palestine to offer a safe and inviting environment where young women and children can develop to their fullest potential; enhance their leadership skills and abilities; and raise awareness on gender and women’s rights issues through quality education, leadership training and fun activities.
The YWCA of Palestine is a reputable organization in the Palestinian society and the first and oldest national, nongovernmental association in Palestine. It offers services to the Palestinian community through three local associations in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jericho, in addition to two multifunctional community-based centers in the Jalazoune (Ramallah) and Aqabat Jaber (Jericho) refugee camps. The organization also offers services such as vocational training and job creation projects, as well as preschools, summer camps and youth programs.
United Methodist Women supports the following programs:
Vocational Training Program for Young Women
The YWCA initiated the vocational training program in 1956 in Jerusalem in an attempt to improve women’s educational and financial status. In 2001 the YWCA opened another vocational training center at its YWCA of Ramallah premises for the West Bank students who were denied entry to Jerusalem as a result of the imposed Israeli movement restrictions, checkpoints and “apartheid wall” separating Jerusalem from the surrounding Palestinian villages and cities.
The vocational training center in Jerusalem offers programs such as office management, accounting, multimedia and project management, accredited by Cambridge International College (headquartered in the United Kingdom). The Ramallah vocational training center offers office management, events management and customer relations. In these specializations, students learn a range of competencies that are needed to enter the job market in a professional and competitive manner, which will help them secure a good income.
The 200 young women who graduate from this program annually come from families in the Palestinian community who are marginalized and have few advantages. The indirect beneficiaries are Palestinian communities as a whole.
Graduates are highly qualified in their fields and are in high demand by their employers, not only for their diplomas but also for the variety of skills they acquire. For example, office management includes a variety of courses, such as accounting (theorized and computerized), management, computer skills, secretarial duties, life skills and typing in English, as well as languages including English, Arabic and Hebrew.
The women also receive gender and leadership development trainings. They obtain theoretical training for 11 months and practical training for a month before graduation. The Palestinian Ministry of Labor accredits the business certificate.
Female Leadership Summer Camp in Jerusalem
For three years, United Methodist Women has supported month-long summer leadership camps aimed at creating young female leaders in Jerusalem. An average of 20 girls participate in this program every year. YWCA networks with the Ministry of Social Affairs in Jerusalem to ensure that the most marginalized female youth in the community are identified for this program.
In past years, participants became aware of critical social issues that concern their lives as women through sessions on topics such as early marriage, sexual harassment, leadership, and effects of drugs, nutrition best practices and volunteer work. They also took an educational trip to the north of Palestine to exchange experiences and knowledge with peer Palestinian youth residing in Israel.
Participants received leadership training that encouraged them to communicate effectively with others and become more engaged community members. The leadership training consisted of 40 hours of training, including experiential leadership coaching.
The program has succeeded in positively influencing participants’ attitudes and perceptions about their capabilities and role in the community. If youth are properly motivated and organized and given opportunities, they can be instrumental in bringing about positive changes in their own lives and those of community members.
Participants shared that their experiences at the camp positively influenced their thinking and behavior, and they expressed their gratitude for having the YWCA offer them such a unique and rewarding opportunity. Abeer Khoury has participated in different workshops with other institutions but said that this program helped her feel like a real leader who can motivate and influence others. She explained:
“I took different workshops before, but this one was a great experience for me. I was the oldest one in the group, and all the other participants considered my views and opinions seriously. I can say that this experience strengthened my personality and helped me feel like a real leader who is responsible and accountable toward the group’s views and needs. Most importantly, I learned many critical issues related to livelihood, and I am sure my life will change with this knowledge.”
Abeer’s testimony, and many like hers, highlights the importance of supporting projects that encourage youth to be more actively enrolled in civic and volunteer opportunities in society.
The Jalazoune Refugee Camp Kindergarten
The Jalazoune kindergarten is located at the YWCA Jalazoune Center and comprises four classrooms run by four full-time teachers. In 2011 the kindergarten enrolled about 65 children between the ages of 4 and 5.
The kindergarten offers interactive and creative teaching methods to help children learn, play and grow in a healthy and safe environment. Each classroom includes a creative corner where children can play and learn through educational tools and books, such as puzzles, blocks and cards, which enable them to develop their own logic and skills.
The cognitive learning methods used at the kindergarten take into consideration the individual differences of children, and this approach is seen as an advantage by both parents and local community members. At other kindergartens, children are taught reading and writing skills at a level that may be beyond what is appropriate for their age and ability. Therefore, children graduating from the camp’s kindergarten tend to show higher achievement in school.
A recent evaluation revealed that parents and local community members trust the YWCA kindergarten and perceive it as providing a quality education. Furthermore, the YWCA works continuously to upgrade the kindergarten’s teaching methods, curriculum and creative activities.
One success story is the positive change in a 4-year-old girl named May from the Jalazoune refugee camp. At the beginning of the school year, May would stand alone, timid and unwilling to participate in any activity. During the course of the school year, through the creative and cognitive learning methods used at the kindergarten, this shy girl began to socialize and play with her peers. She also took the lead to sing in the classroom and to participate in all activities, with no exception.
May’s mother realized the tremendous improvements in her daughter’s behavior. She came to the kindergarten to specially thank the YWCA for the effort they invested in her daughter.
Support to children means support to women like May’s mother. Many of these women are from the most marginalized and challenging geographic areas; through such support, they are able to participate in public life.