July 2009, Jordan
Ahlaam is a Palestine refugee from Gaza living in Jerash Camp, Jordan. She lost her husband at a young age; having left school early, she held no qualifications, experience or employment skills. With no-one to care for her, Ahlaam wanted to lead an independent life. Thanks to the new Employment Guidance Programme in Jerash, funded by the European Commission (EC), Ahlaam underwent relevant training and secured a full-time job.
The employment guidance programmme is one of several initiatives sponsored by a EUR 2.5 million grant from the European Commission to help residents of Jerash Camp in Jordan. The agreement for a four-year-long project was signed in September 2006 and launched in February 2007. The programme is part of a comprehensive community strategy seeking to improve the residents’ health-care, education, employment opportunities, and physical living conditions.
Approximately 20,000 people inhabit the 750-square-metre camp; the vast majority of them are refugees who were forced to leave mandate Palestine in 1948 and lived in the Gaza Strip until the 1967 War, when they fled to Jordan.
While most Palestine refugees have been granted Jordanian citizenship and enjoy the related full rights, ex-Gaza refugees do not enjoy such benefits. They are entitled to hold a temporary Jordanian passport, valid for two years. The limited validity of this passport severely hinders their travel and employment prospects abroad.
Furthermore, there are a number of restrictions on their employment opportunities within Jordan They are excluded from various employment sectors including government service, law, agriculture, engineering, journalism, certified accounting and health care. Additionally, they cannot become members of cooperative associations or set up a private business outside the camp boundaries without a permit. Ex-Gaza refugees are also barred from training and employment programmes run by the government. Thus, the unemployment rate amongst ex-Gaza refugees stands at 39 per cent, distinctly higher than the national average of 14 per cent.
With the help of the EC grant, a comprehensive strategy for the camp’s socio-economic development has been established, aiming to reinforce the Agency’s existing services, including education, health care, social services, micro-credit and emergency relief. A Community Development Office (CDO) has been established in the camp. The office is a voluntary-based organisation and employs volunteers and members of the camp. This distinctive local-participatory approach has enhanced the sustainability of the Office, built the capacity of the refugees and ensured that the activities accurately reflect the community’s priorities. This office is the first of its kind in achieving this genuine level of community involvement.
The CDO has worked to empower and assist the ex-Gaza refugees and strengthen the camp’s community-based organisations. It offers employment guidance programmes, vocational training, university scholarships and access to project-development loans.
The scholarship programme has had a considerable impact. Previously, only 6.5 per cent of ex-Gaza refugees could afford to do a Bachelor’s degree, 0.3 per cent a Masters, and 0.1 per cent a PhD. Eighteen-year-old Haytham was among the brightest in his class but decided to withdraw from school to support his family after his father became unemployed. However, when Haytham heard of the new scholarships offered by the European Commission, he was encouraged to return to school where he excelled in his exams. To his parents’ delight, he won a scholarship to study his favourite subject, mathematics, and now studies at Al-Bayt University.
The vocational training programme has helped to address the problems of non-enrolment in school (9.1 per cent of children in the camp are not enrolled), and destitution (27 per cent live under the poverty line). The programme aims to equip refugees with skills and qualifications to help them secure employment. Uday, a young refugee, left school early to support his family. Lacking adequate experience and skills, he worked as a daily labourer, hardly making ends meet. Uday enrolled on a domestic electronics course at the CDO. He gained an exceptional understanding of the field and is now working in a stable job. The CDO assisted Uday during his training at the vocational training centre by covering his transportation costs; meagre as this may seem, it helped to alleviate his financial burdens.
Another significant result of the EC funded project has included the expansion of the rehabilitation centres for the deaf, and the development of a training carpentry workshop and education and sports facilities for the disabled. Additionally, a course was organised to train twenty volunteers to run awareness-raising sessions on human rights and advocacy activities.
Furthermore, the Women’s Programme Centre (WPC) in the camp has been substantially upgraded, and a legal advice bureau created. The bureau provides counselling to women in order to help them realise their legal rights; supports and assists victims of domestic violence, and empowers women to enhance their participation in the local community through training programmes. Since its establishment, the bureau has issued 388 legal consultations and conducted 17 awareness-raising awareness sessions, attended by 489 women.
The EC donation has also been effectively used to expand the camp’s educational and health facilities. The two schools in the camp operate on a double-shift basis and are immensely overcrowded; previously 14 class-sections had no designated classrooms (floating classrooms). The schools have been extended and seven additional classrooms constructed, new equipment and furniture has been procured and two computer labs installed. The local health centre has been upgraded with new equipment. A mobile dental clinic has also been set up to provide screening and treatments to some 5,837 students in 42 schools in the Irbid area. Additionally, a new solid waste-removal has improved the environmental health conditions in the camp.
The generous contribution from the European Commission has made a substantial difference to the lives of ex-Gaza refugees in Jerash Camp. The numerous initiatives and programmes have tackled issues including abject poverty, unemployment and non-enrolment in schools. UNRWA and the EC have succeeded in their efforts to generate a positive change to the lives of the ex-Gaza refugees living in the camp.