Ramadan Stories from Gaza
The month of Ramadan has come this year to the people of Gaza at the same time as the new school year. The conjunction of the two events acts as a reminder of the hard living conditions in which Gazans live. The crushing blockade imposed on Gaza by the Israel authorities is now in its third year and seriously limits the availability of basic supplies. Medication, flour, building materials, papers, books, even stationery for the new school year; all are restricted from entering Gaza.
With such deterioration in their living and financial conditions, the people of Gaza have lost their taste for joyful Ramadan nights. In previous years, people used to go to the markets to buy and to select from the various goods available in this holy month. Now, because of high prices, their children find themselves unable to have the traditional seasonal toy, the Ramadan Fanous (lamp). They must be satisfied with home-made versions made of tanks, and bottles of Cola or juice.
The effect of this inhuman blockade has not only left the people unable to sustain their lives, but has also expanded to affect the work of the biggest relief organization in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA provides education, healthcare, social services, and emergency aid to over one million refugees living on the Strip. These people depend on the basic services provided by the Agency.
One of UNRWA’s largest activities is the provision of education services to the refugees’ children, accounting for half of its regular budget. The number of students enrolled in the UNRWA schools in Gaza for this school year is 206,180 children; 8,000 more than the previous year. This year, UNRWA faces the dual challenge of an increasing number of students in its schools, combined with an Israeli policy of not allowing building materials into Gaza. The Agency has therefore temporarily installed a temporary set of 'container’ classrooms; for now, these will function as the Nuseirat Elementary Boys School.
Sitting on a piece of land donated by the local community, the structure supporting the school is a blue plastic pavilion. Its 19 temporary classrooms cater only for the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The classrooms are mobile and limited, each holding a capacity of 36 students only. With regular power cuts, the situation in this hot weather is unbearable or both the students and the teachers.
School headmaster Mr. Hamdan Jaber El Hoor says "90% of the basic needs of the school are available, like the books and classes, but the school is still in bad need of fans or even air conditioners to alleviate the heat inside the containers; especially at this time of the year, which are considered the hottest days of the year". Other teachers I meet as I walk through the school yard echo this worry, which is particularly acute during Ramadan.
Al Hoor adds that "the only reason for this situation is the blockade. We do not have building materials to build the school on time. Nonetheless, while this situation will affect the quality of the services provided to the refugees, it will not stop us as UNRWA employees and teaching staff from working hard to continue this project."
When I asked him about the number of parents who intended to transfer their children to other schools, he replied that "the school situation is not so encouraging, but we are at the beginning still. Some parents came to transfer their children, specially the excellent students, because of the school condition, and this is a problem that will affect the school performance at the end of the year." Speaking about the equipments available for the school, he said "we have a place for the science lab, the computer lab, and a library, but till this moment we did not receive any of the necessary equipments."
Ahmed Mizher, a student in the fifth grade, said "I am happy at this school, but the containers under the sun’s heat become so hot". Shihab Abu A’reban, another student, said "I wish that the school administration would work to complete the school. Our yard is made out of mud; with the rain in winter it will be sticky, and difficult to walk without slipping".
Despite this difficult situation in the boys school, the resilience of the students and their teachers shows a spark of hope that the blockade has not been able to put out.