Local solutions to international problems: Shifting the power in Palestine.

Gennie Allcott, global communications coordinator for Restless Development, met with Nader, the director of the Bethlehem branch of YMCA in Palestine to discuss the organisation’s work and youth civil society in Palestine. 

They touch on being a youth civil society organisation working in a landscape of big international aid organisations, and how limited resources, and the traditional aid model’s budgeting and short term projects are keeping power, and a seat at the table, out of reach for smaller organisations. They also speak about Nader’s hopes that coalitions, collaborations and alternative approaches to development can start to shift the traditional power dynamic, so that their voices are heard, and youth civil society becomes strengthened and more resilient.

What does YMCA East Jerusalem do? 

As a palestinian NGO and member of the world alliance of YMCA’s we represent a real pillar for development in Palestine. 

We mainly work with two groups of young people. The people who have survived the conflict with Israel who have developed psycho-social problems as well as young people with disabilities. And we run different programmes; programmes related to vocational training, empowering women, and various social and cultural activities as well as rehabilitation. This is our biggest programme. 

How would you describe your approach?

We have lots of social workers, counsellors, and career counsellors- the people who are qualified to care about people. And we believe in the relation of all factors so we try our best to ensure that our programmes include all relevant aspects – familial, social, economic etc. It is community based outreach and it’s holistic. This means we look holistically at people and focus on reintegrating people into communities and developing opportunities for young people to live better lives. 

Why do you do what you do?

At YMCA, the core principle is to help young people who are living in the margins of life to come into the mainstream and find opportunities. But while we are a YMCA , we are also a Palestinian organisation. This means we work to ensure we are relevant to the needs of Palestinians, particularly young people who are facing so many difficulties and are losing hope for a better life.

They are suffering a lot. They have economic problems mainly due to the military Israeli occupation and structural problems like how services are delivered in this country; how rights are respected and how young peoples’ voices are highlighted and respected in decision making processes. All of these factors are essential to the success of young people and the opportunities available to them. 

We find in Palestine, that a lot of young people are trying to find alternatives out of this. They think they can solve these problems by emigrating. So we are working with young people to find ways for young people to stay here and develop families and be together in Palestine. This is part of our motivation. We are sticking to the core principle of YMCA but as a Palestinian organisation we also care as it’s young people that represent the future of Palestine.  

Can you tell me about some of the things you are most proud of to date?

We are the only organisation that provides career assessment according to young people’s talents and interests. We then build our guidance on these thorough assessments and help them discover where they can or can’t fit and ultimately find direction. This is totally unique. We often receive referrals including from the palestinian authority to help people find the right direction in their vocational life. 

What challenges do you face as a Palestinian organisation?

We are facing big challenges. First it’s political. We are living under political occupation. We are having limited access to areas; where we have to have permits to access certain areas. 

The other thing is limited resources. It’s a poor country that’s living on international aid and the Palestinian Authority do not prioritise the work we are doing. We think their budgeting could be done differently to better help young people and those that are marginalised. They of course have their own challenges; they have very limited resources too. 

Changes in the focuses of the donors and the changes in the donor trends might also represent a big problem. They come with a new theme for 3/4/5 years – a focus on resilience or economic empowerment and then they want you to shift all of your resources to this. But we cannot adapt to all of these changes because they are not done in consultation with us and with those who know how this would be helpful in Palestine or not. 

Another important challenge is conditional funding. Donors come with their money but also with their political conditions, some of which contradict our human rights. It negatively impacts the trust that should be developed between CSO’s and donors and undermines real partnership. 

I believe finding ways for alternative development could be developed here in consultation with the real people who are targeted for this kind of development. This would represent a real change in the mentality and the trends of funding. 

Do you have the ability to influence others? How do you think you could have greater impact? 

YMCA has a lot of potential in changing the approach to development which isn’t functioning well. It has great relationships at a community level and a great network of partnerships with Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and a track record of initiating successful coalitions and networks. I believe supporting YMCA in this direction might be helpful in helping how the palestinian authority…reshapes development in this country.

We are trying to find ways to upgrade the capacity of local NGOs to better meet community needs. This will help the resilience of our communities and as we are living in a country where there are always emergencies – resilience is really key. To be there as a local NGO to respond in an  emergency is so important. So building capacities of small and medium organisations working at local and regional level is a good thing . We are doing this actively and are developing coalitions and building systems rather than just doing things here and there. For example, we developed a union for organisations working in employment for young people. We worked with young people, service providers and employers to change their ideas about hiring people with disabilities. We are all organisations feeding into one data system and networking, cooperating and working together to have greater impact. 

Another coalition we are part of is the Palestinian disabitliy coalition.  It is mainly an advocacy network that helps unify understandings among organisations and to put pressure to the Palestinian Authority to be accountable to the needs of people with disabilities. Now there is a huge reform happening for the rights of people with disabilities because of the efforts of the coalition.

Bringing people together is a basic requirement for successful advocacy. We are privileged at YMCA, as our advocacy lead, Shatha, who herself is living with a disability, is well known in the disability community and is leading our work in this field. She is a prominent figure at a national level, and is known as a fighter and campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities in Palestine. We believe in enabling young people with disabilities to get involved and lead the change for a better life. 

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Local solutions to international problems: Shifting the power in Palestine.

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