Youth Create Change in Gaza
“At first I was afraid to go out and meet with others, but afterwards I started to learn more about the Popular Achievement Program. Through the program I was introduced to new people. [The program] provides youth with an opportunity to get involved with society and become community organizers and leaders.”
Ameera Al-Zobaydi (16 years old) Popular Achievement Participant
Ameera is one of a group of girls from the Al-Safawi area of Jabalia Refugee Camp who participated in the AFSC Palestine Youth Program. The program works with youth between the ages of 14 and 17, teaching them civic engagement, decision making, and leadership skills . They are encouraged to identify something they want to change in their community, and then organize and implement community actions.
Calling themselves “Windy Flowers”, Ameera and her fellow participants worked in their community to open up opportunities for, and overcome prejudices against, people with disabilities. The group worked to call attention to the way in which people with disabilities are neglected and isolated in their community. They developed and broadcast a series of public awareness messages over local TV and radio, and set up educational meetings with the families of people with disabilities and the broader community. Their project culminated in five days of games and recreation which were organized for young people with disabilities by the participating girls. For some of the participants with disabilities this was their first time to take part in an activity outside of their home.
Ameera and her colleagues told AFSC that when they started to work on this issue they faced resistance from community members, but by taking time to explain the project to these people during home visits and meetings they were able to gradually build support for their work. They also noted that for themselves the most important aspect of both the Popular Achievement Project and their community initiative was the way in which this work helped them identify issues of importance to them and their community, while also giving them the skills needed to address these issues on their own.
When asked why they chose to work on disability rights the group points to Ameera as their inspiration. Ameera lives with a neuro-muscular disability, and her struggles to overcome her own disabilities helped motivate and focus the group. As one participant noted, “Ameera helped us realize that people with disabilities are similar to us, we are not different.” In turn, the group also assisted Ameera by providing her with medical shoes that help her walk with increased confidence
While this group of girls has completed the Popular Achievement Project they have continued working together to change their community and build their futures in Palestine. In the words of another participant, “…we are young but we can do these things regardless of the challenges. People should know that Palestinian youth have the talent, ambitions and ability to build their futures and make a difference.”