The East Jerusalem YMCA was established in 1948 in a tent in Aqabat Jaber Refugee Camp, near Jericho. Today, the YMCA operates a variety of programs and activities consistent with its vision for Holistic Youth Development. These programs respond directly to the needs of people within all sectors of Palestinian society without discrimination. Special emphasis is given to young men and women.
Offices are located in Jerusalem (headquarters), Ramallah, Aqabat Jaber Refugee Camp near Jericho, Beit Sahour, Gaza, Nablus, Hebron, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, and Salfit.
The Programs of the East Jerusalem YMCA are the following:
- The Vocational Training Center (VTC) commenced its training in 1952 after the UNRWA assumed the relief service for the Palestinian Refugees and after a thorough study of the needs of our Palestinian Society at that time and which is valid until the present time. The goal of the Center is to provide vocational training to males and females in order to become productive elements in their society and support themselves and their families. The vocations include woodwork, metalwork, general maintenance, painting, and auto-mechanics for male students. The Electronics and Computer Department, established in 1996, provides training for female students in maintenance of electronic equipment and training on computers in various market required fields such as Graphic Design. To date, the Center graduated 48 class including five female classes. The Vocational Training Center (VTC) includes a boarding section for male students and the boarding section for female students is located in a different location near Jericho.
- The Program Department operates the sports, cultural, social and recreational activities including youth and work camps, leadership training, youth exchange programs, international conferences and other activities that aim at developing and enriching the spirit, mind and body of youth and other members of our Palestinian Society. The major role of the Department is to put into practice the vision, mission, goal and objectives of the East Jerusalem YMCA.
- The Rehabilitation Program (RP) was launched in 1989 in response to the needs arising from the first Intifada related injuries and physical disabilities. The Al-Aqsa Intifada that started on 28 September 2000, re-enhanced the urgency of the Program to focus on the injuries and physical disabilities of the violence victims in order to achieve the Program’s goal of full integration of the physically disabled into their own community. The Program provides psychosocial and vocational rehabilitative services all over the West Bank, in addition to medical aids to help the physically disabled reach the maximum possible degree of independence. Building accessibility facilities for persons with disabilities is one of the unique offerings of the Program. The Program trains its staff and develops the most up-to-date means and methodologies to cope with international standards of operation and expertise.
- The Extension Services Unit Program (ESU) was initiated in 1992. The Goal of the ESU is to stimulate long term self-sustaining jobs and micro-enterprise development in the vocational industrial sector of the West Bank and Gaza. The ESU target groups are the vocational, industrial and polytechnic graduates of both genders in addition to vocational workers in the vocational industrial sector in the West Bank and Gaza. The activities of the ESU are training within industry, specialized technical courses, industrial excursions and open days, management training for small businesses and machinery loans for micro and small businesses. Within the structure of the ESU, the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) was developed to cover the stimulation of new educational, recreational and economic opportunities for disadvantaged Palestinian youth through sustainable career counseling. The YOP cooperates and coordinates its activities with the other East Jerusalem YMCA programs and functions each according to its field of operations. The activities of YOP include training in career counseling; support of construction and management of youth centers; educational, recreational and economic integration of disabled youth within the above centers and other institutions and locations; and youth employment and income generation through training courses in different skills.
- The Women’s Training Program (WTP) was initiated in April 1993 to improve the socio-economic status and involvement of women in the Palestinian society, through strengthening their decision-making capabilities and economic productivity both inside and outside their homes. The current Goal of the WTP is to reinforce the role of Palestinian women through strengthening their initiatives and capabilities in order to achieve sustainable development in their local communities. The WTP activities include career counseling in schools and youth centers, training of career counselors, intensive training in the targeted rural areas, short-term training courses in non-conventional fields like curtains, bed covers and cushions production, loans and community based development models.
- The Advocacy Desk was established in December 2000. Its goal is to promote peace and justice, as the two indispensable and equivalent principles that are the basis for stability, tolerance, and equality in Palestine. The Desk works to raise awareness concerning the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people among local and international organizations, as well as partners and friends around the world. Specifically, the objectives are as follows: to improve mechanisms for cooperation and coordination among YMCAs and YWCAs in Palestine, the World YWCA, the World Alliance of YMCAs, other organizations, partners, and friends; to mobilize the above-mentioned parties to support justice in Palestine through all possible means; to enhance awareness concerning the Palestinian situation among international YMCA/YWCA movements and other partners and friends through the activities of the Free Palestine Campaign; to build bridges of understanding between Palestinian and foreign youth from various cultures through encouraging young people with potential for leadership from YMCAs and YWCAs to visit Palestine in order to share their experiences of youth development and social justice.
The East-Jerusalem Young Men Christian Association (East-Jerusalem YMCA), with the support of YMCA International, was established in Aqbat Jaber - Jericho in the aftermath of the 1948 war which resulted in Jerusalem being partitioned between the Israelis and the Jordanians. The war, referred to by the Palestinians as Al Nakbeh (catastrophe), resulted in over 75 per cent (nearly 750,000 people) of the population being made refugees and / or internally displaced. The YMCA in Jericho embarked on a mission of providing not only a holistic youth development that is based on Christian ethics in an endeavour to improve the soul, body and mind of youths.
The Association started a vocational training which not only was a success in terms of providing skills to a workforce that the market place was in shortage of as well as providing the workforce with means of supporting themselves and their families but also it provided the clearest evidence early on that the YMCA is responsive to society’s needs.
The YMCA moved its headquarters to East-Jerusalem and rapidly established itself as a fulcrum for society in the fields of sports, and youth development. This function grew further after the occupation of the East-Jerusalem and the West Bank by Israel in the 1967 war to the extent that it would be a fair description to say that the East-Jerusalem YMCA was almost a ‘Quango’: the term is a shortening of Quasi-Autonomous National Government a Quasi-NGO that is, an ostensibly non-governmental organisation which performs governmental functions, often with government funding or other support (Palestine being the exception) as in the Red Cross providing blood bank services with government support, and backing of various kinds. An essential feature of a Quango, in the original definition, was that it should not be formally part of the public sector- although in this particular case, the YMCA is a server of the community and arguably, for many years, it performed the role of a governmental organisation for youth and culture.
Program development was always a reflection of society’s needs as they arose. A good example of this is the creation of, by the East-Jerusalem YMCA in Beit Sahour, a rehabilitation programme as a direct result of a dramatic increase in the number of disabled people as caused by injuries inflicted on the civilian population by the Israeli occupation forces during the First Intifada (uprising) of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.