Efforts aims to boost quality of education, increase employment opportunities for refugees
The Bekaa Valley on Thursday saw the opening of "Al Jarmaq" school, a new secondary school building in Talabaya constructed by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA) with EU funding. The impressive four-storey concrete building, freshly painted in blue and white and decorated with words of thanks to the EU, was built to accommodate the overflow of students from Talabaya's existing UNRWA school. Previously limited to only half a day's education due to the need for double teaching shifts to offer education to all children, students will now benefit from three additional hours of instruction.
Patrick Laurent, head of the European Commission Delegation to Lebanon, and Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs Lebanon, cut the ribbon together at the school's entrance in a symbolic gesture representative of their collaboration in improving education for Palestinian children in Lebanon.
Laurent publicly recognized and expressed his gratitude for the active and predominant role that UNRWA plays in improving the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon, stating that "UNRWA - which shoulders many of the frustrations of the Palestine community in Lebanon - has provided educational services for refugees for 60 years. While I share the sentiment that social services alone will not solve the hard situation of the Palestinian refugees, it is a necessary and difficult task in which UNRWA plays an irreplaceable role."
With the EU providing UNRWA the financial backing it needs, Talabaya will only be the first of six schools scheduled to be completed this year. As part of a major EU education project aimed at enhancing the UNRWA educational system to increase employment opportunities for Palestinians, 15 million euros will go to UNRWA not only for construction, but also toward improving quality in education.
"In less than two months we will be able to do all of the experiments in the books" said physics, chemistry and biology teacher Fatima Albeqai, who is waiting for the remaining laboratory supplies promised to her by UNRWA.
The students of her seventh-grade class chimed in their excitement about the extent of activities offered at the new school that were not previously available. "Here we can do many activities, in the library, computer labs and the theater," one front-row pupil said enthusiastically.
Most students want to be engineers, doctors or teachers, but with an average failure rate of 50 percent at the ninth-grade level according to Afaf Younis, head of UNRWA's Field Education Program, the agency also strives to recruit drop-outs for vocational training in a range of fields from plumbing to photography.
For those who do pass and aim to pursue university degrees, many are accepted at Lebanese universities and various scholarships are available to them, including those offered by UNRWA backed by EU funding.
Some may question how much the schools can enhance employment opportunities considering laborious Lebanese work-permit laws, social prejudice against Palestinians in Lebanon, and the scarcity of jobs on the market, but according to Lenka Vitkova, program manager of the Delegation of the European Commission to Lebanon, the constraints on job prospects are at least partially counter-balanced by foreign demand for qualified Palestinians. "We are aware that many graduates of our scholarships emigrate for jobs, often to the Gulf," she said. Palestinian graduates know that they are quite sought after in the Gulf because they're cheaper to hire but still highly qualified.
It is perhaps for this reason that Ahmad, a seventh grader, aspires to be an engineer "just like my uncle." When asked why he is so happy to attend school everyday, he grinned, proudly stating an attitude that UNRWAs efforts have so diligently been trying to instill in their culture of education: "'Cause learning's our future."
Story Courtesy of Daily Star