Balata is a refugee camp in the West Bank where 30,000 people live on 0.25 square kilometres. It is a crowded and confining place. Lack of private space, overburdened social services and the potential for the spread of illness can have long-term cumulative effects on residents.
Like in many refugee camps, residents are faced with the pressures of poor housing conditions, lack of access to adequate healthcare, unemployment and rising living costs.
Israeli raids are commonplace, and clashes between residents of the camp and Palestinian Authority forces only add to the atmosphere of fear and tension in Balata.
With few opportunities ahead of them, many young people have turned to drugs and crime and many more exhibit behavioural problems.
The Yafa Cultural Centre (YCC) serves as a community centre, providing the camp’s youth with a much-needed space for social and cultural activities, while providing psychological support.
YCC provides the camp’s youth with space and training in music, dance, theatre, filmmaking, martial arts and creative writing. There is also a Scout programme.
The centre’s Mental Health Unit offers psychological support and social counselling as well as workshops at local schools on the negative impact of drugs, violence and harassment.
A library serves as a space for English language classes and film screenings.
Since its inception in 1996, YCC has made great advances in de-stigmatising mental health issues in a very conservative society.
Thousands of members of the community have benefited from its programmes, with 100 people attending the centre every day for various activities. Its media unit has produced over 20 documentaries so far and its Scout association counts 150 members.
Photos: Kayané Antreassian/Stars Foundation