With border closures and increased poverty undermining the ability of Palestinian teenagers to get a good education and enjoy their time off, the value provided to tens of thousands of youngsters from UN-supported learning centers throughout the West Bank and Gaza is possibly the one stimulus that helps them overcome their stress and hopelessness.

“The chronic anxiety adolescents are facing on a daily basis undermines their self-esteem and increases their feelings of loss of control over their lives,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a recent report on a centre in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

UNICEF provides 40 centers with such core supplies as stationery, library furniture and books, along with products that kids enjoy the most, computers, sports equipment and music.

In the midst of poor living conditions at Jabalia, where the poverty rate exceeds 70 percent in some areas, the center is the only available outlet for teens, serving at least 17,000 of the most disadvantaged kids in a setting where they can learn music, play sports, browse book shelves, and improve computer skills.

“This centre is the only place that gives me the opportunity to learn and widen my knowledge,” said Mohammed, 15. “I built good friendships as well. I am now able to express myself better than before.”

The centers are run with the help of local committees trained by UNICEF, consisting of at least four adolescents (both male and female) who oversee activities. Committee members receive 30 hours of training on child rights, communication skills and project management.

At the Jabalia centre, kids have been learning dabkeh, the traditional Palestinian folkloric dance.

“The thing that I love the most is music, dabkeh and sports,” Mohammed said. “They are very important in helping me build my body and activate my thinking.”

Hanin, 16, added: “Because I am interested in learning dabkeh, my life is totally different now. Before coming to the centre, there were no places that could teach us.”

The Jabalia Community Centre, which also receives funds from the Canadian International Development Agency, is open six days a week, three days each assigned for boys’ and girls’ activities. UNICEF is working in cooperation with the Palestinian Tamer Institute for Community Education and the Ma’an Development Centre.

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