As a child, Um Ahmad didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, and she was completely illiterate when she got married, at only 18. But those who underestimate women like this Palestine refugee from Khan Younis, in Gaza, should take a look at Um Ahmad today.
Now 42, Um Ahmad supports herself, her jobless husband, and their seven children – three daughters and four sons. To support them, “I worked hard in grazing, olive harvesting and aggregate-producing projects”, she says. With help from a community-based organization, she even managed to set up a small dairy-farming project with only a single cow. “I get up in the morning, prepare breakfast for my children, go to the farm, milk the cow and then go to the markets to sell the production.”
The aim of all of this has been to provide a living and education for her children, to make sure they have the opportunities their mother did not. This includes her daughters: One, 24, has already finished university; the other two are still students.
Um Ahmad’s children have gone to schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The Agency has been able to provide support to Um Ahmad herself, too. She’s attended numerous courses, including a women’s literacy course focussed on administration and marketing. She says, “I thank the UNRWA gender initiative for providing me with a course that liberated me from my isolation, as I became able to communicate with the public.” Um Ahmad especially praises the Agency’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs in male-dominated cultures and industries.
It’s still a challenge to support her family, and there are a lot of compromises – including second-hand clothes and fire for cooking. But this Palestine refugee mother, like so many others, is determined to create a brighter future for her children.