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In the latest of our regular series of interviews, Professor Sarah Brown talks to Yousef Awad, the Director of the Jenin Creative and Cultural Center, Palestinian West Bank - an affiliate of Children of Peace - about their vital work in helping young people and the local community to foster peace and justice in the region.

Go to the Jenin site.

Sarah Brown: The Jenin Creative and Cultural Centre was established after the Second Intifada. What impact did you hope it would have on the children and young people of Jenin?

Yousef Awad: We started our work at the Jenin Creative and Cultural Center to use art and cultural projects to foster peace and justice in the Palestinian occupied territories. We opened the Center to serve young people and to try to offer them a safe place where they can practice their skills and the chance for them to communicate with international community and express themselves in a way that can help them to be a positive force in their community. And to let them think that there is still hope for a better future.

At the Center, we truly believe in a peaceful, just and equitable world.

Our vision is to use art, culture and education as tools for the young generation of Palestinians to advance the ideals of peace, justice and equity.

Our mission at the Jenin Creative and Cultural Center promotes active leadership roles for young people within their community and to provide them with the opportunity to develop extracurricular skills to fill their lives with constructive and meaningful activities.

We aim to promote the values of tolerance, reconciliation, non-violence and democracy, by empowering young people to express their views, share their stories and to reach out to a wider audience. We also aim to promote volunteer work, cultural dialogue and environmental awareness.

We get the chance to offer lots of training to our young people and give them the chance to visit other countries to encourage new ideas and ways of building better lives. These activities give them better self-worth, self-confidence and the chance to share their dreams and hopes of a better life in the future.

SB: How do the children and young people respond to your focus on peace, tolerance and reconciliation? Is that a challenging message for them or one they accept readily?

YA: All our children dream of living in peace - like other children around the world. Each have dreams that they long to fulfil - to travel, to play, to move freely, to see the seaside.

Yet, it is hard. It is not an easy thing when you under an occupation that control all aspects of your life. It prevents you from having a normal life. It makes our mission extremely difficult when you have daily killing and incursions.

SB: What are the greatest challenges faced by the Center?

YA: The greatest challenge for us is to fund for our activities -covering the expenses from our rent to our running costs. Other challenges include encouraging the Palestinian Authority to prioritise support for cultural activities as the PA is drawn into coping with numerous challenges that arise from the Israeli occupation.

We are also looking for more volunteers who can help in conducting activities and help in building links to the Center, so we can continue our work for serving the local community.

SB: Could you tell us something about your new project helping parents whose children have autism?

YA: The availability of services for children with autism in the West Bank differs drastically from the services available to these children in Israel. While Israel's ALUT programme offers some of the best autism services in the world, Jenin and the West Bank as a whole have no such services available. Palestinian families living in this area are unable to access long-term Israeli services because of Tazrih requirements, implemented during the intifada, which require Palestinians to apply for visas weeks in advance for travel to Israel not to exceed 3 weeks.

Due to the lack of understanding of autism in the West Bank, parents often hide children with disabilities in their homes out of shame. There is no schooling and there are few recreational activities available to these children. Most mothers of these children do not work.

Although many children with autism in Jenin remain undiagnosed, the city is notable for its above-average number of diagnosed autism cases. An autism center was previously established in Jenin, but recently shut down due to a lack of funding and the high cost of treatment. The building of this autism center is available for the implementation of this project.

Applied Behavioural Analysis is a scientifically proven treatment for autism. The programme uses positive reinforcement to modify behaviour to aid children in acquiring learning skills and life skills. Although standard in the United States, ABA is costly and is unavailable in most developing nations. ABA is an intensive programme, but is a curriculum that anyone can learn and implement. The recommended treatment takes place for 25 hours a week but these hours can also occur in the home as children carry out daily living tasks.

SB: Which performance (or other event) devised by the Center has made most impact?

YA: Since the opening of the Center, we have produced numerous performances both locally and internationally. We had the chance to hold musical performance in UK and performed on the BBC alongside a very successful UK tour. In Sweden in 2008 we enjoyed huge attendance at our dance show.

In 2009, fifteen of our children performed in Berlin and Venice to critical acclaim and just last year we held a soccer match between a German team and our girls' team. These are just some of the exciting and positive activities we have carried out since our foundation just nine years ago.

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