In September 2014, Teachers Creativity Centre (TCC) identified Tammoun Secondary Girls as a partner for an extra-curricular Community Integrity Building programme (referred to as a ‘Social Audit’ by TCC) for young Palestinians. Miss Rita Sala Marou’m, teacher “I think it is really important that the girls’ education takes them from theoretical learning into practical experience. I want them to experience the feeling of achieving something new, to find their own results and their own roles.”
Tammoun in the north of the West Bank is home to roughly 12,000 villagers, its seven schools educate thousands of students each year. In June 2014, Tammoun municipality commissioned a contractor to undertake improvements to 11 roads in the village, including a road that led to three of the local schools and the outlying agricultural area. The works included paving and resurfacing and building sidewalks on both sides of the roads.
Students and villagers had struggled with the roads for years and although they were greatly improved by the works carried out in 2014, significant problems still remained. The community had not been consulted during this initial round of works and many of them were dissatisfied with the results. On many of the streets there still were not safe pavements for the students to use, the surface of the roads was uneven and cars were regularly damaged by potholes. In winter the rain made the conditions even worse, and the daily commute to school was problematic.
The CIB approach that the girls adopted saw them operate with a level of confidence, independence and expectation. The results of the student’s community survey revealed that several members of the public who used the recently repaired roads were dissatisfied with the work because of a lack of length and width of the streets and the pavements.
The team visited the completed road works to investigate the issues with their completion. They recorded their observations with photographs, measurements and samples taken from the tarmac. The team wanted to compare their findings with the original tender document to ensure any recommended changes were based on evidence. The student monitors noticed an inconsistency between the height of the pavements and the measurements specified in the tender. When they raised this issue with the chief engineer they were satisfied when he explained that the reason this height had to be raised was to accommodate a number of tree roots which would push through the surface of the pavements if they were built at the height specified in the tender.
The issue of peeling paint on many of the road markings was not so easily explained. Mr Bisharat claimed that because they were boycotting Israeli products it wasn’t possible for them to access good quality paint. The students conducted their own research and identified three local companies with good quality paint that could have been used in the project. They also discovered that the engineer had only applied two layers of paint rather the three layers which was necessary and part of the original tender. The students went on to point out gaps in the paving (which would allow water to gather in crevices and lead to damage in the long term), open holes where samples had been taken by the original construction team, missing sign posts and several roads which were notably shorter than the length prescribed in the tender.
In collaboration with TCC the students organised a public hearing with the municipality and other members of the public. They presented their findings and suggested ‘fixes’ to the group. “There was a very high level of community interaction, especially during the public hearing session that the students organised”, says Rita. “The villagers saw an opportunity to ask questions about the discrepancies. This is the first time in this community that we have had this kind of involvement. It is a significant change”.
Their findings were clear – the benefits to local citizens vastly outweighed the issues raised at the public hearing and holding off on renovation work could no longer be justified.
‘This was all done by the students themselves. They performed the auditing, they performed the process of negotiating with the municipality to make these changes and to bridge the gap” Rita asserts. ‘Their personalities became stronger, they are braver about talking with officials. They also believe now that it is their role to hold officials responsible’.
The practical benefits of the roads being repaired are felt across the whole community and the main road leading to the girls’ school is filled each morning with students and their families making their way to school safely. But the real lasting impact lies in the community involvement in the planning of public services. The project built an awareness that people have the power to demand improved services and it built a culture of trust and accountability within the community.
Many thanks to Joy from Integrity Action for her contribution. Find more about Integrity Action be sure to visit their website, or follow them on Twitter at @Act4Integrity. Follow Joy at @Integrity_Joy