“My experience of abuse drove me to help others”
In 1983 Iftikar was still protected in her mothers’ womb when her parents had to flee the fighting following Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon. Set up in a temporary shelter after managing to find a nurse Iftikar was born in a school, after which the family moved to the Palestinian refugee camp Beddawi. The Beddawi camp was established already in 1955 by UNRWA and is still today populated by an estimated 16,500 refugees. Libanese authorities does not conventionally enter the camp and internal security is provided by Palestinian factions. "My mother was kind and supportive trying to create good conditions for us to enjoy our childhood. But my father was harsh, and he used to hit me a lot" Iftikar says.
Iftika describes how the violence she endured as a child affected her whole being from very early on. Instead of replicating the behaviour of her father and the adult world, she was motivated to protect other children in general, and her four siblings in particular. "I felt I needed to be strong and defend my siblings. At the age of 15, we all decided to confront my father and tell him that it was wrong, and this should stop" she says.
Later in life when she became a mother of her own, she started to help and raise awareness to other parents. For her now 7-year-old daughter, she uses dialogue and positive enforcement as means of upbringing. Her concern for children living in violent homes and communities became her profession first as a teacher, and later as a volunteer for UNICEF. Apart from the damage violence have on children on an individual level, Iftika also see how child abuse generate destructive societies. The violence in the attitudes of children in schools worries her. "This problem is very dangerous as it will eventually lead to the exploitation of children and making them attracted by extremism, militarisation and crime".
Being a child victim of abuse in the camp leaves few avenues for support as there are no social institutions or centres to care for children who face violence. Fear of stigmatisation also makes it hard to openly discuss the practice. Through the organisation Human Call Association, in partnership with Björkåfrihet, Iftikar enrolled in a leadership training as part ’Our Future Leaders’ project. The project aims at develop the capacity of young people to take leading roles in their respective organisations and communities. The project includes training course on emotional intelligence, communication, project management, leadership etc. The project is part of the programme Seeds of Independence which is being implemented in Palestien and Western Sahara with funding from Forum Syd.
What attracted Iftikar’s attention to the course were the elements of communication, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution. "I am interested in stereotyping, the relation between parents and teenagers and effective communication skills. I want to develop in these areas and be empowered to contribute to a safer place for all children in the Palestinian camps." says Iftikar.