Palestinian schoolgirls enjoy a day of ‘normal’ childhood

Eleven-year-old Raghad says while drawing Winnie the Pooh on a school wall: “I paint at home, but painting walls is new to me. It is more fun, and more people can see my work. Before the programme started, I used to go home, eat, do my homework and then play at home with the neighbours\' daughters. However, here we can play outside and practice sports.”

A recent Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics study indicates that close to 70 percent of parents in the West Bank believe that their children are exposed to violence primarily by the Israeli army.

“I am very happy that the girls can eat here at school. Many of them come to school without eating breakfast because their families are not so well off. We found in a blood test that all girls in the school underwent that 11 percent of them were malnourished”, says the school’s headmistress Iman Sanduqah.

“This is a nice programme, both girls and parents are happy. The girls enjoy the extracurricular activities. In the past they used to go home after school and stay indoors because it is not as socially acceptable for girls to play on the street as boys do,” furthered Sanduqah.

“The Comprehensive After School Programme in the Palestinian Areas” aims to improve the psychological well-being of the 205 schoolgirls studying at the Bani Zeid Primary Girls’ School by turning the school into a “safe zone” for them to play and by involving them in play and art therapy.

This initiative includes three daily hours of academic enrichment, extra-curricular activities such as art, music, athletics, non-formal science education and the provision of hot meals, psychosocial healing and coping techniques, and basic health services.

The programme is funded by the Middle East Children’s Institute (MECI) and will be implemented over the next three years.

Since the project started in February 2007, school performance markedly improved in the school especially for the weak students, and failure rates have dropped from 7 percent to 2 percent only

In addition to the 205 girls, 11 cooks and seven instructors are benefiting from the project and will have a chance to earn some money to feed their families over the next three years.

Despite Beit Rima and the surrounding villages that make up the Bani Zeid community looking prosperous with attractive stone houses, the reality for the 6,500 residents is very different. After the militant group Hamas won the parliamentary elections in January 2006, the international community imposed economic and political sanctions on the government, leaving it unable to pay its 165,000 employees. Consequently, hundreds of middle class civil servants in Beit Rima became poor, despite the people in the five villages enjoying a very high literacy rate with close to 70 percent of young adults in the area holding academic degrees.

World Vision Jerusalem – West Bank – Gaza has a similar programme in the Gaza Strip and plans to expand its psychosocial programmes to other parts of the Palestinian territories.