Hopes and aspirations in the Palestinian Territories: From galvanising interest in the local communities to gaining the support of the Palestinian Prime Minister, we hear about the exciting journey Active Citizens in the region are undertaking.
The past twelve months have been a time of development and exploration for the Active Citizens programme in the Palestinian Territories, tells Saad Halawani, Project Manager at the British Council.
The first time the British Council Active Citizens team visited the Jordan Valley and Hebron in October last year, they were optimistic about encouraging the communities and participants to get involved. But, as Saad tells us, they really didn’t expect the 'fantastic turnout and commitment' they received: 'People from the communities came to the events in their masses, and the selected 60 individuals were committed to the programme in body and soul'.
The fantastic response from the communities is further boosted by the interest the Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad is showing in the project, which he demonstrated in person when presenting certificates to Active Citizens in March this year.
The Palestinian Prime Minister made it clear that it is very important for communities to take an active role in their own development, and the essential role young people play within that context. He emphasised the importance of existing relationships with international organisations, especially with a focus on disadvantaged communities in the Jordan Valley and Hebron areas, and thanked the British Council for its work in East Jerusalem as well.
'Communities here are used to people arriving from outside the country, funding infrastructure projects, and then leaving again,' explains Saad.
For the people of the communities of the Jordan Valley, who are struggling for basic survival on a number of levels, the concept of individual development, which is an essential part of the Active Citizens programme, was something very new to them.
The Active Citizens programme however focuses on developing skills within the community. The local training gives participants’ a greater understanding of community networking, sustainable development - including global interdependency and global citizenship – and working effectively with difference, as well as developing project planning and implementation skills.
The power of the internet
In Palestine the Active Citizens participants completed internet and social media training modules.
Reminding us how the internet can be a powerful tool giving young people a voice, Saad describes the participants’ reactions on completing the training: 'Once the participants learnt about internet communication, and how to create and manage blogs, they were filled with pride and a real sense of hope.'
For the first time the group had the power to speak up and the chance to make a difference, with a sense of responsibility from now on for developing and representing their communities.
In Hebron, for the 90 trained Active Citizens, their opportunity to contribute to their communities materialised in the form of the social action projects they themselves had developed and implemented.
Focusing on the needs of their community and with a view to getting maximum impact, they chose to work on campaigns to protect and maintain public property, as well as celebrating their heritage through a cultural festival with activities to engage the community, and contributing to fair trade within their community.
During their visit to London as part of the international exchange within the programme, the Palestinian participants discussed the regional and global mandate of the project while working with Lebanese and UK peers. During their visit to various organisations, they learned about the different tools available to people to help make a difference in their local communities. Sharing their experiences, the active citizens discussed the similarities and differences in the challenges they encounter when implementing their social action projects. For example, how to secure funding for projects, how to reach out to disengaged people, and how to get your voice heard in local politics. For one avid footballer who was part of the team, standing in front of the Arsenal Emirates Stadium and running on grass was a dream come true.