"A business man once shared with me his employment strategy. He hires not the best technician, but the one most in need of work in order to ensure high quality work," explains Fawzi Madfaa Principal of UNRWA's Damascus Training Centre.
"This is the situation of our trainees: an urgent need for work and a dedication to their trade." On 9 August 2009, 42 Palestinian trainees of a pilot course in Homs received their certificates in arc welding, equipping them with the skills to enter the workforce in a specialised trade.
The welding course was funded in part by the Employment and Vocational Education Project, a joint initiative sponsored by the European Union (EU) and UNRWA. The three-month course in Homs fully reflects the Project’s mission to improve the employability of Palestine refugees and create efficient and accessible employment services. It is the work of Fida Awad, Employment Guidance Officer at the Homs Employment Office that connects the course graduates with employers seeking such skilled workers.
A unique and mutually beneficial partnership between Awad and the Homs Chamber of Commerce and Industry identified employment opportunities for Palestinian jobseekers by filling gaps for potential industrial employers. Basel al-Husan, mechanical engineer and metal-works contractor in Homs, expressed to Awad a great need for skilled welders. Not only did al-Husan partner with UNRWA in supporting the course, he provided additional funding, course materials, and most importantly mentorship for trainees. He hosted several trainees in his own company for mandatory on-the-job-training, and has already hired others. Al Husan’s involvement is but one of the various means of ensuring that the quality of training meets the expectations and needs of the industry.
"I just really want to emphasize my gratitude to Miss Fida... if it weren’t for her, I feel I wouldn’t have a good job today," says Hussein al-Lababidi, one of the course graduates.
So what is the true impact of the welding course on the lives of its Palestine refugee graduates? "We used to rely on our families," says Muhammad Hussein Mahmoud. "Now, they come to us for help." Fellow trainee Ahmad al-Saghir adds, "I used to feel great anxiety in my heart, not knowing about my future. Now I know I have one."
Trainees entering the work force start at salaries that greatly increase their financial autonomy and flexibility. For many this translates to around 30,000 Syrian Pounds per month, or 650 US dollars. Mahmoud is engaged to be married, and no doubt his training and new employment will allow him to enter this new chapter of his life with a greater sense of security. Nearly half of the welding course trainees are already married and responsible providers for their families.
Most admirable is the trainees’ appreciation of the personal development they have gained through such training. Al-Saghir states with pride, "I feel empowered and encouraged by my new profession, but most importantly, I feel respected."
Text and photos by Nouna al-Dimashqiya
UNRWA and the EU
Since 1971 the European Union has regularly supported UNRWA, becoming its largest multi-lateral donor. Between 2000 and 2009, the EU has provided over €1 billion of support to the Agency. This funding has enabled human development for the most vulnerable Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.