Programmes in Gaza

18 November 2009

In Gaza, UNRWA has implemented a series of reforms to improve its services for Palestine refugees. The reforms have been undertaken in response to the needs and wishes of the refugees themselves, gauged through regular community outreach sessions.

Relief and social services and emergency food and cash assistance
Microfinance and job creation
Recovery and reconstruction
Gender equality
Promoting the rights of the most vulnerable


The children of Gaza grow up in bleak conditions. Surrounded by poverty and violence, school is the one place where they are able to learn the skills for a better future.

Years of underfunding have left the education system in Gaza overstretched, with 94 per cent of schools operating on a double-shift basis, hosting one “school” of students in the morning and a different group in the afternoon. As a result, children’s education is severely truncated.

In testing in 2006, nearly 80 per cent of students failed mathematics and more than 40 per cent of students failed the Arabic exam.

To reverse this alarming trend, UNRWA in Gaza introduced its "schools of excellence" initiative, which includes:

  • a dedicated human rights curriculum
  • promotion of respect and discipline in violence-free schools
  • basic snacks to help students focus on their schoolwork and encourage them to attend school
  • support materials for low achievers and enrichment materials for gifted and talented students
  • assistance to vulnerable and low-achieving students, including summer learning programmes, after-school classes and comprehensive health assessments
  • additional class time in Arabic and mathematics
  • Summer Fun, a programme of recreational activities that provides children with much-needed relief.

Human rights education

Given the particularly challenging context in Gaza, the Agency introduced a standard human rights course based on materials developed through our human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance programme. To further enhance its effectiveness and depth in Gaza, in 2009 UNRWA introduced a dedicated curriculum for the weekly human rights class in grades one to six. The Agency is also developing a dedicated human rights curriculum for grades seven to nine.

Using practical, real world examples, the Agency teaches children about their rights, their responsibilities, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the mechanisms that enforce it.

More about human rights education

Summer fun

Since 2007, UNRWA has run Summer Fun Weeks, the largest recreational programme in Gaza, providing up to 250,000 children with fun and games and offering them much-needed psychological relief. The programme gives children room for creativity and self-expression, and opportunities to develop new skills. Time and space for recreational and creative pursuits are simply not available during the regular school year, so Summer Games offers children time in which they can just “be kids”.

During the 2011 programme, the children of Gaza broke four Guinness World Records, proving that when given the opportunity, they can be the best in the world.

Learn more about summer fun in Gaza

Vocational training in Gaza

UNRWA provides technical and vocational training opportunities to about 1,300 students each year at its Gaza and Khan Younis Training Centres, targeting the poorest and most vulnerable low-achieving students. The training provides students with space to develop themselves and their skills, and a way out of poverty.

To ensure that students have the best chance of success in the labour market, the Agency works with the International Labour Organization and the private sector to place some students in short-term apprenticeships following the completion of training.


As a result of years of socio-economic decline, conflict and closure, health services across the Gaza Strip suffer from inadequate infrastructure, insufficient training, overstretched facilities, and frequent interruptions of services due to power cuts.

At the same time, the population’s health is at increasing risk. Food insecurity and rising poverty mean that most of the population do not receive enough food, while over 90 per cent of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption.

Through 20 health centres across the Gaza Strip, UNRWA offers comprehensive primary care to more than 1.1 million Palestine refugees. Recent reforms have brought significant improvements:

  • bringing the antibiotic prescription rate in UNRWA health centres in line with the WHO standard
  • significant increase in the number of Gazans using family planning
  • early detection of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, made possible through community outreach and screenings.

Community mental health programe

Children in Gaza are regularly exposed to violence, through IDF operations, internal conflict, and community or household tensions. This situation is aggravated by the economic and psychological hardships caused by the ongoing siege imposed on the Gaza Strip. Children face persistent violations of their basic human rights, with a devastating psychological impact.

UNRWA’s community mental health programme mitigates the effect on refugee children. The Agency allocates school counsellors who screen students to determine who most urgently needs mental health support.

Relief and social services and emergency food and cash assistance

Five years of blockade have pushed Gaza into unprecedented unemployment and poverty, decimated the private sector and turned most people from self-sufficiency to aid dependency.

UNRWA targets its basic food and cash assistance through a proxy-means tested poverty survey (PDF), representing best practice in poverty alleviation. The very poorest refugees, who are unable to meet even their most basic food needs, receive the most assistance.

Help UNRWA help the poorest of the poor in Gaza.

Microfinance and job creation

Livelihoods in Gaza are disappearing. Unemployment climbed to 45.2 per cent in 2010 and access to agricultural and fishing areas is under threat because of Israel’s imposition of a “buffer zone” along land borders and a three-mile fishing limit. UNRWA eases the impact of widespread poverty and protracted conflict by nurturing entrepreneurship, supporting the private sector, and restoring dignity and self-sufficiency to refugees.

The Agency’s microfinance programme is the largest provider of loans to small businesses and microenterprises in Gaza. It also specifically targets women entrepreneurs, providing them with critical employment opportunities.

The job creation programme (JCP) injects cash into the local economy and supports the private sector. Positions range from three months for unskilled workers to one year for professionals. To provide Gaza’s best university graduates with much-needed and deserved work, JCP offers them one-year employment.

UNRWA faces a funding crisis, putting these 6,500 jobs per month at risk.

Support the job creation programme by making a donation to UNRWA‘s Gaza emergency appeal

Recovery and reconstruction

Years of conflict and closure have had a devastating impact on infrastructure in Gaza. During Operation Cast Lead alone, more than 60,000 shelters were destroyed or damaged.

UNRWA developed a recovery and reconstruction plan to support sustainable economic growth in Gaza, as well as to address the long-term needs of Palestine refugees. The principal elements include building 100 schools and 10,000 refugee shelters over a three-year period.

From June 2007 to early 2010, the Agency was unable to implement any construction projects because of the strict prohibition on imports of construction materials from Israel. Following the “adjustment” to the blockade in June 2010, Israel began considering the entry of construction materials for UNRWA on a project-by-project basis. While progress has been made, the system falls well short of refugees’ needs, mainly due to limited crossing-point capacity.

Ironically, since the “adjustment”, the tunnels from Egypt have been freed up for construction materials and Gaza has witnessed a construction boom. While UNRWA and other international organisations are bound to a slow, bureaucratic process, with significant additional costs, the tunnels flood the private sector with cheaper materials than those imported legally through Israel.

Gender equality

Severely reduced social, economic and recreational opportunities, and increased domestic violence, have left women in Gaza socially isolated. UNRWA provides women with space to take physical exercise, build computer skills, receive educational support and leadership training, and pursue hobbies.

UNRWA works with more than 25 community-based organisations across the Gaza Strip. It is also working to break the silence surrounding domestic violence, promote career development for its female staff and ensure women’s needs are equally considered in its services.

Promoting the rights of the most vulnerable

In Gaza, UNRWA works with community-based organisations specifically targeting women, children, young people, orphans and people with disabilities to promote the rights of the most vulnerable. UNRWA also oversees the operations of the Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired and its school, which provides 500 children with educational support.