Haneen’s interest in human rights – especially children’s rights – started early. In 2018, the youth worker of SOS Children’s Villages informed Haneen about the idea of establishing a youth council. The counselor asked all the young people who would be interested to apply, so she did.
In the Youth Council, there are 12 members, who plan and implement different initiatives. They discuss what young people and children need, but also what kind of support the community around them needs. Another role is to bring the children’s problems and wishes to responsible adults. Haneen has always been excited about the different activities and initiatives or project opportunities at SOS Children’s Villages. Even as a child, she participated in everything possible that was offered. She loves volunteering and social participation especially for young people.
Haneen travels by bus from Hebron to Bethlehem to attend the physical meetings. Sometimes the meetings also happen online. In these meetings, all participants discuss different activities and decide together what will be implemented. If everyone agrees, the idea is presented to Zohair, the youth advisor. Haneen’s favourite projects are volunteering outside of the SOS Children’s Village, in the neighbourhood. For example, the group has worked together to help renovate homes of people who are too old or sick.
Through these challenges, the community grows, bonding with each other and gaining new experiences at the same time, Haneen says. “We love to help others grow.” The Youth Council has already carried out many projects in the meantime and the young people receive a lot of praise and recognition for this from the neighborhood, but also from other young people. All of them are enthusiastic about the many successes.
A bridge between children and adults
The young people also received training on how to speak more confidently with adults, as well as how to encourage children to do so. They have done many activities with the children, gaining their trust. Children in the SOS Children’s Village also come to the Youth Council with concerns and problems.
Haneen knows about the impact of occupation on children in Palestine, as well as child labor, likewise there are various violations of all children’s rights in Palestine compared to other countries.
Building a bridge between children and responsible adults is especially important because children need someone they can talk to and trust. Being a youth council member is a good way to build this bridge. Haneen sees herself as a translator who confidently gathers the needs of the children and then passes them on to the responsible decision-makers. Children feel that the young people from the youth council feel and know well their concerns, so they can be trusted and they can understand the children and their preoccupations. When new children arrive, the youth council always introduces itself first and makes it clear to the newcomers that they are there to support the children.
Advocating for children’s rights
Haneen also finds it important to talk about other projects she has already participated in. Haneen started to learn about children’s rights when she was a child. There were protection programs that offered different trainings for children and Haneen always volunteered for them because she wanted to learn more about them. The first initiative that Haneen supported was about children without civil identity, but also about advocacy projects for children’s rights and trainings about child protection. During this time, Haneen was selected to represent children’s rights in alternative care. Haneen went to a conference with other young people from Palestine and represented the Children’s Village. Then, in 2018, Haneen was selected to attend a program at the UN to share her story from the Children’s Village, as well as tell of being returned to her family.
All the many experiences Haneen already had as a teenager about law, human rights and children’s rights helped her to choose her field of study – law.
Haneen is now also a member of the Academy for Children’s Rights in Palestine. There, she fights for the implementation of various child protection laws in the basic law. This is already the case in other countries such as in Europe, she says, and in Palestine this urgently needs to be adapted. In addition, since the course for the rights of children without civil identity (children without citizenship), she has been working to ensure that these children are recognised. This initiative is already having its first successes and laws have already been adapted. Groups are also being formed to give lectures in schools to inform the children about their rights.
The individual initiatives are also active on social. The most important message is that everyone can do something for others. The many photos and stories of shared volunteer services and activities should inspire others to get involved as well. Naturally, the volunteers would also share their experiences with each other.
When asked how she manages all this, studies and all the activities, Haneen laughs and says: “I manage it all only with the support of SOS Children’s Villages and with a lot of organisation and strict time management.”