5 December 2012
“The bombing happened at night”, says Fatma Ahmad, shaking her head. “I came to inspect the school early that morning. I was shocked by what I saw.”
Fatma is the school principal at UNRWA’s co-educational elementary school in Bureij, a comparatively small refugee camp located in the central region of the Gaza Strip. During the recent round of violence in Gaza, the school sustained damage when a mosque next door was targeted by an Israeli airstrike.
In the aftermath of the violence, UNRWA staff and local communities sprang into action with a cleanup operation, determined to minimise the amount of disruption to the children’s normal routine. As a result, Bureij Elementary and UNRWA’s 244 other schools in Gaza were able to open their doors to students at the start of the school week, immediately following the ceasefire.
“We knew that parent’s would be very unhappy if their children were moved to another area in this time of distress”, says Fatma.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for children, so we fixed as much of the school as we could.”
Local volunteers put children first
As soon as the ceasefire came into effect, Bureij’s teachers and two school attendants began clearing dangerous debris and glass from the school’s main areas with the help of at least 60 volunteers. Volunteers, like local parent Muhammad Mustafa Hamdan, came to help despite the fact that their own homes had been seriously damaged.
School attendants Maryam Yousef Abu Samra, Abd El Latif Abu Bshara and Muneer Serhan stood guard outside the school so that nothing would be stolen, saying they felt a duty to keep the school’s property intact. “I am obligated to help”, said Abd El Latif.
The damage to the school was substantial, with classroom windows shattered and doors blasted in. Today, the school is in the best possible working order, with all available space converted into classrooms and the final debris being cleared by local young people, but serious repairs are needed.
Volunteer Farid Abu Azbid says he is worried about the coming winter; the school’s windows are currently made only of nylon, and the weather is getting colder and rainy. Everyone hopes that reconstruction will be able to take place as soon as possible. UNRWA has made an urgent appeal to donors for the funds needed for repairs.
“The children need time”
When the children arrived to school, they were shocked and distressed by the damage, says teacher Raeda Dughmush. “One student was so afraid to leave his mother, he cried and refused to enter the classroom.”
A small number of children have been moved to a nearby school until the destroyed areas are rebuilt. In class, teachers have focused on fun activities and games to help students cope with trauma and get back to normal; but the damage is posing difficulties.
Teacher Khitam Eid’s classroom was severely damaged; she is temporarily limited to teaching in the school library. During the bombing, a lot of Khitam’s teaching materials were destroyed, many of which she had purchased from abroad.
Her very young students suffer, she says, from the new lack of basic teaching aids, like a board on which to write: “With small children like this, you have to draw things for them to visualise and learn.”
The school’s teachers want to normalise daily life for children as quickly as possible, especially as exams are approaching. But while the bombing has stopped, the trauma remains, teacher Raeda says. “They need time.”
This holiday season, help families in Gaza struggling with the aftermath of conflict by making a donation to UNRWA‘s Gaza appeal.