Children are expected to be leading a happy life. Yet, for eight year old Basel Saeed, happiness is still not a part of his life, “I like Aleppo, but I hate being deprived of lovely parks to play football with my friends. Roads are too dangerous to ride bikes. I want to have fun and I want to be happy”.
Ongoing rehabilitation enterprises, never-ending construction projects, and many aspects of reform encompass every Syrian city. However, some portion of the population have several complains about their life. Surprisingly, these complainers are children and adolescents who have different perspectives of how to make life more enjoyable.
Syria is classified to be one of the fertile countries where 35% of the population is comprised by the those who are the age of 18. This index has grabbed the attention of decision makers to the necessity of engaging children in decision-making process. The physical place in which kids grow up sends all sorts of subtle messages of how they are valued in society.
Aleppo city was the first – and the only one in Syria up to present- to welcome the idea of establishing a Child Friendly City (CFC) under the umbrella of “Madinatuna” or the Urban Development Program of Aleppo. Indeed, the beginning was at the 5th International Conference on children and youth in MENA region, that took place in July, 2009. A group of municipality employees, media workers, NGOs, and member of the civil society were the first group of volunteers who attended a training workshop on CFC as one of the conference’s extended activities.
The Child Friendly City Initiative is a worldwide movement led by UNICEF that works to fulfill children’s rights at the level of communities and local authorities. The CFC framework was successfully applied in several cities all around the world and have resulted in bringing the children’s rights agenda down to the local level. To make this one-of-its-kind project sound and effective, the UNICEF Syria initially supported the Aleppo CFC’s committee in charge. The latter has received a guidebook during the July Conference by AUDI- a leading force in assisting the CFC in the Arab World, with a rich database and case studies full of examples of good practices of other CFCs, such as Essen-Germany, Kawasaki-Japan, and many more.
“The beginning was difficult for all of us, as we had no initial idea of the strategy that we had to follow, ” said Ghada Rifai from Urban Observatory Unit in Aleppo Municipality, “we were motivated to render the concrete idea a tangible reality and make Aleppo a better place. Therefore, we had to refer to encyclopedias and other resources to write a proper working plan taking the city’s capabilities into consideration,” she added.
CFC of Aleppo was built under the Mayor’s supervision and moved down to the trained committee – better known as the steering committee. shortly after this group urged members of civil society for further involvement. Private and government schools administrations showed readiness to send some of their students to participate in the first workshop of the CFC.
Under the title of “City in their eyes”, drawing competitions and seminars were conducted for 100 child and adolescent chosen from different social strata. These workshops aimed at investigating how the youngest portion of Aleppian society view their city. Moreover, similar two-day consultations with 100 parents of children (including children under 7 who have less visibility) and adolescents were conducted by the Municipality in January 2010.
Building a better place
According to the UNICEF Strategy the CFC should take into consideration the following building blocks which are: Children’s participation and active involvement in decision making processes, a child friendly legal framework to protect the rights of the children, a city-wide children’s rights strategy , children coordinating mechanism, children impact evaluation to assess the impact of law on children , children’s budget, a regular state of the City’s children report, making children’s rights known, and independent advocacy for children.
UNICEF has worked on building the capacity of the steering committee, supported the visibility of the project, and ensured the participation of children and adolescents at every stage of the process. So far, the situation seems to be satisfying, despite the lack of any form of official regulation that sanctions the CFC process in Aleppo.
Pawel Krzysiek, UNICEF’s communication consultant, has escorted the whole journey of implementing the idea of CFC from A to Z . He has assisted several consultation workshops for kids and adolescents as well. “One of the most promising facts about the Aleppo’s initiative is that it developed with a remarkable participation of the city’s communities. We are at the very beginning of building the child friendly cities in Syria. In the future, a successful example of Aleppo can help to replicate”, he concluded.
Within the following days, the unwavering effort of the steering committee have yielded a notable program based on six months of constant work. They are optimist to legalize a strategy to be implemented in Aleppo and to be further accredited by the UNICEF. The first seeds are now planted in a child-friendly environment, and this would ensure the growth of the promising generation that Syria is worthy of.
For more information on Child Friendly cities visit: www.childfriendlycities.org