A particularly hot summer in Syria has heated youth centres across the country. Whipping up adolescents’ enthusiasm to participate, summer activities offered by UNICEF’s Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) Project gave Syrian youth fresh opportunities to grow outside of school time.
With lacking facilities and limited family support, a clear definition of spare time is lacking among youth. As shown in the nationwide consultations with adolescents conducted by UNICEF in 2007, “studying, eating, sleeping and watching TV” are the most common leisure activities available to young people in Syria.
“In general, organised summer activities are uncommon in Syria and, if they exist, they are offered by private sector organisations who charge for such services,” UNICEF’s ADAP Project Officer Mr Mohamad Kanawati explains.
Protection and enabling environment
This lack of balance grows with the gender gap as boys appear to have a much wider range of opportunities than girls. Although dreaming of activities clubs, swimming and trips to the sea, most girls are left home alone once school is finished.
But summer in Syria also proves to be critical for adolescent protection and personal growth. While limited opportunities force girls to stay home, boys look for temporary employment or spend their free time on the street.
Meeting these challenges, UNICEF tailors its interventions in order to provide adolescent-friendly services that help youth realise their potential. One of the main pillars in this support is a safe and protective environment where adolescents learn about themselves. Developing self-management, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, they actively participate in the lives of their communities preparing to enter a new stage of their lives.
“We aim to make adolescents use life skills acquired in the centres at every stage of their development. We teach how to apply them, at the same time providing a physical space where they can feel safe and understood,” Mr Kanawati says.
From training to practice
In Ein Tel, a Palestinian camp in the outskirts of Aleppo, excited Adel, 16, lists what he just learnt at the UNICEF-supported workshop.
“I know how to deal with my parents, how to express myself, how to build various images about others in a rationale way, how to plan for a future,” Adel says proudly.
With a contribution by the Government of Norway, UNICEF provides its support to the adolescent-friendly centres run by UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and GAPAR (General Authority for Palestine Arab Refugees) in seven Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. As a part of the specially designed summer club curriculum, Palestinian youth attend peer-based life skills workshops, career guidance sessions and build their capacities in computer applications, handicraft and languages.
The space is also opened for youth-led initiatives such as participatory theatre, photographic exhibition, film-making, art shows and action research. Building on the acquired life skills, the aim is to encourage adolescents to practice new capacities, develop creativity, raise awareness about issues that affect their lives and, based on the latter, make informed life-decisions.
“With creative and analytical thinking you come up with more than one solution,” Adel says. “You understand your choices and pick the best options.”
Spreading the ADAP culture
In 2010, for the first time in the country’s history, UNICEF partnered with the Youth Union and Scouts – two main national youth organisations – to deliver ADAP orientation training at their summer camps. More than 400 adolescents – half of them girls – were introduced to the features of adolescent age, life skills concepts, insights of peer pressure and the human rights-based approach.
“Today we talked about our freedom to smoke. We discussed why not every kind of freedom is my right,” says Hala, 17, a young Scout.
Staring from a tented classroom at her Scout camp now plunging into darkness, Hala explains why she should play a key role in achieving her own rights.
“Actually, this session was not only about smoking,” she says. “It was about knowing the difference between my freedom and my rights; to show us how to make the best use of it for our own benefit.”
With a dynamically changing national approach to youth, the Syrian Government and national youth service providers are increasingly open to the needs of adolescents in the country. While cooperation with the Youth Union is already on a well-established track, the Syrian Scouts with more than 1 million registered beneficiaries of adolescent age seems to be a perfect vehicle to spread the ADAP messages further.
“We need to expand to more national organisations working with youth, to other camps in the country,” Mr Kanawati says. “We want to see more youth leaders, more youth groups and more youth-led initiatives that contribute to the development of their society.”
As the summertime in Syria is slowly going to an end, a warm wind of change blows through the potential of country’s the adolescents.
“Every journey that we make in our lives gives us new experiences and friends,” Adel says. “The same with life skills – they gave us new perspectives on relationships and our development. The difference is that these skills now become a lifestyle and these perspectives will stay with me forever.”
Adolescent Programme in Syria
Offering opportunities and resources that both bring positive results and empower adolescents to act as agents of positive change is the core element of UNICEF’s Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) Programme. Through ADAP, UNICEF builds partnerships to promote adolescent participation in the processes that affect their lives. One of the ADAP elements is the development of Adolescent Friendly Spaces that ensure safe and protective environment for adolescent participation. At UNICEF Syria, the ADAP Programme exists since 2008 when a separate adolescent component was established, drawing from the knowledge and experience gained from the Palestinian Adolescent Refugee Programme. Since then, more than 5,000 adolescents aged between 10 and 19 have directly benefited from ADAP trainings and activities. ADAP Programme is supported by the Government of Norway, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), European Union and U.S. Government.