A new school is exciting anywhere, but for young Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, it means so much more: It’s a whole new home for their education. Ask the students of the Al Qarara preparatory boys’ school, a new addition to the 245 UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in Gaza. Built thanks to a generous donation from the United States of America, Al Qarara is having an important impact on the education of students for whom education is always at risk.
An eighth-grader, Mahmoud Shihada, says that he “feels like a new person in the new, morning-shift school.” His old school was far away from his home; transportation was expensive when it was available at all, so he was frequently late. Now, he says, “I am more organized, I have more time for study and homework.” He also has time now to hang out with his friends and enjoy his hobbies. Al Qarara also has a smaller number of students in each class, which has helped another eighth-grader, Abdul Al Munim Khila, improve his performance.
For students with physical disabilities, a school’s proximity is even more important. Ninth-grader Majd Suwidan explains: “My health conditions are different than those of the other students. I used to face many difficulties getting to my old school… I felt embarrassed because my father had to shoulder extra financial burdens to get me to school, but now I can reach school easily.” Thanking UNRWA for its help, he adds, “I thank the USA for their generous donation which has had a great impact on my health and economic conditions.”
Parents like Dr. Ahmad al-Fara are also happy. At Al Qarara, his son is becoming a well-adjusted, high-performing student. It’s also become easier for Dr. al-Fara to keep in contact with teachers and school administrators. Dr. Jamal Sahloub, a member of the school parents’ council, adds, “We thank the USA for their contributions to UNRWA in general, and for this project in particular.” According to him, Al Qarara and its team are “the best school in the area.”
Currently, over 230,000 students are studying in UNRWA schools in Gaza, a number growing by seven to eight thousand students per year. Since 2010, the United States has funded 18 new school buildings as part of UNRWA’s effort to fund 100 new schools in the Gaza Strip, 11 of which are already open for class. In 2013, UNRWA completed 30 school buildings thanks to support from multiple donors. Overall, schools operating on double shift were reduced from 86 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013 and class size was maintained at 38 students per classroom, down from 49 students per classroom in 2000, despite the population increase.