This year 485,023 UNRWA school children in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, stood up simultaneously and shouted "No to poverty" in protest of their own poverty and the poverty of others throughout the world. The Stand Up events at UNRWA schools were organised as part of the global campaign calling on world leaders to tackle the issue of poverty.
The Palestine refugee communities served by UNRWA are profoundly affected by poverty. "The whole world must be made aware that growing poverty threatens the childhood of Gaza’s children," explained one of the girls at Gaza’s Stand Up Against Poverty event last year.
Unfortunately in the past year the socio-economic situation in Gaza has deteriorated further. The continued border blockade has meant continued economic stagnation. This has been compounded by the destruction of key industrial and civilian infrastructure during the three-week Israeli offensive at the beginning of the year.
A survey carried out by UNRWA found that this year the number of abject poor refugees in Gaza has tripled from 100,000 to over 300,000. Furthermore, the Agency has received 80,000 applications for additional help from 400,000 refugees.
In the West Bank, a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report found some reason for hope, predicting economic growth if Israel continues to ease restrictions on internal trade and movement of people. However, the report warned that failure to do so would mean economic downturn.
Even with some improvements many Palestinians in the West Bank continue to find themselves facing a difficult economic reality. The IMF puts unemployment at 20% and studies have shown that in the West Bank, as in all UNRWA’s fields of operation, refugees are more likely to suffer from unemployment than their non-refugee counterparts.
Refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, also face economic hardships. Absolute poverty rates among Palestine refugees at the end of 2007 were, respectively, 12.0%, 3.0% and 7.0%.
All this means that poverty is a reality for the majority of children in UNRWA schools and the children themselves have a lot to say on the issue.
This year, in preparation for the Stand Up Against poverty event, every UNRWA school child was asked to make a poster and has been encouraged to discuss and express their thoughts and feelings on the issue of poverty.
In Shu’afat Girls School in the West Bank the debate was lively. "I’d like to tell the world that there is no shame in poverty" said Iman one of the 8th graders. "I wish that the world would raise its voice" chipped in Abeer from the 7th grade.
As to ideas on how to tackle poverty, Ayat Hamden from the 10th grade knew exactly what she thought would help. "There needs to be cooperation, we need to be given education, job opportunities and freedom to travel".
Another 7th grader offered a closing thought on the theme of the need for cooperation to tackle poverty. "Everyone needs to work together, the Jews and the Arabs, all the people in the world, we all need to learn to live together."