As the 25 students walked towards the examination hall at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Damascus Training Centre, 22-year-old Yehya Rummaneh, a second-year information-technology student, trailed a little bit behind the crowd. Living with disabilities caused by prenatal hypoxia – a lack of adequate oxygen before he was born – he needs the help of friends and teachers to get around. But bringing up the rear also gave him a chance to take a breath and prepare for the future on the other side of that exam.
Yehya knows there is a lot riding on his shoulders. At the centre, it’s hard to forget: 1,247 Palestine refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria have found shelter there. Yehya, whose family fled the heightened tensions of Yarmouk in December 2012, now lives with his mother, grandmother and his aunt’s family in three crowded rooms in the city’s al-Zahera al-Jadideh neighbourhood. His father, who worked in a shoe-making workshop in Yarmouk, travelled to Amman to support the family, but like many refugees now depends on daily wages that barely cover the family’s rent.
“I have to work to provide a living for my parents”, Yehya says. But he’s smiling with pride. The only son, he is now the family’s main source of support. “I don’t feel my disability hinders me from taking an active role in society or continuing my education”, he continues. The real challenges are coming from the outside – the pitiless conflict that has engulfed Syria for the past three years. “I don’t have any idea what the future might bring”, Yehya says, so he’s reluctant to specify any of his hopes and dreams. He just needs to be ready to seize opportunities as they come.
Fouzi Madfaa, chief of the UNRWA technical and vocational training programme in Syria, explains that the conflict in Syria “has given greater emphasis to the importance of the DTC”, which provides young Palestine refugees with skills training in a wide range of subjects. “The centre is the source of the future of students now, and of the future of students to follow in years to come.” However, as the conflict has decimated Syria’s economy, DTC graduates will have a more difficult time finding appropriate jobs than they did before.
It’s been a challenge for UNRWA to keep the centre operational while also providing shelter to over a thousand displaced Palestine refugees. But both aims are important: Displaced civilians need immediate support, including shelter, food and health care. Young Palestine refugees need the knowledge and skills DTC courses can give them to prepare for the future. “UNRWA has tried its best to provide Palestine refugee youth with marketable skills and is constantly reshaping its training programme to keep up with the changing demands of the labour market”, Mr. Madfaa says.
Heading into the exam room at last, Yehya – who knows better than many about overcoming obstacles and living with courage, dignity and responsibility – says, “The centre has prepared my colleagues and me to get ready and face difficulties in live and improve our social and economic status.” For these young Palestine refugees, UNRWA provides a springboard into working life. For UNRWA, its students provide a constant source of determination and resilience.