Gaza creativity and talent on show among its regular arts events
30 March 2016
On 16 March, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Bo Schack, visited the ‘Our Women Products’ exhibition organized by the Women’s Affairs Centre in Shahelat in Gaza City as part of his regular outreach activities around the Gaza Strip. The exhibition displayed a variety of beautiful and elegant handmade products and homemade food designed and cooked by women from Gaza, aiming to increase their access to the local market.
“I learned to do embroidery when I was still studying in the UNRWA school, and I loved it. Then, I started to teach my sister, and soon after we started to cooperate and sell our products to the community,” explained 36-year-old exhibitor Huda Abu Oda, who lives with her family of nine in Beach camp, in western Gaza City. “I also wanted to prove to everyone that although I have a disability, I have the ability to be successful,” she added proudly. Since Huda started to sell her products, she has expanded her venture, and her micro-business today includes 10 women working for her – including four with disabilities. Huda and her sister have thus become the main breadwinners of their family.
On the same day, in another corner of Gaza City, siblings Dima and Hamdi Shusha’a celebrated the opening of their atelier called ‘Tezzkar’ (souvenirs).
“In Gaza, there is not only a place for conflict and poverty, but also for creativity,” said Dima convincingly. The opening attracted dozens of curious Gazans and visitors, including Mr. Schack, who has a particular interest in start-up initiatives developed by youth.
“The youth of Gaza is suffering from unemployment, and for me the way out is to be creative; most people have a hobby or talent, and they should try to use that as a way out,” explained 28-year-old Hamdi on his thoughts about the economic situation in Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is considered to have one of the highest joblessness rates in the world, particularly among youth. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in the third quarter of 2015, the overall youth unemployment rate stood at 62.95 per cent, and the youth female unemployment rate at 84.2 per cent.
“I hope we can be a positive example for the young people here. I want our success story to reach everyone and teach everyone that each person has the ability if she or he believes in him or herself,” 26-year-old Dima commented.
Like most artists, Dima and Hamdi hope very much that one day in the future, the blockade on Gaza will be lifted and they will be able to exhibit their products outside of Gaza to reach a broader market, but also to show the world that Gaza youth are talented and creative and still have hopes for the future.
The Shababeek (‘windows’) art gallery in Gaza tries to creatively bypass the blockade and the severe restrictions on movement by offering the people of Gaza a glimpse – or a window – into different worlds through art and photography. “Our aim is to offer people here a chance to see different worlds, to have a different experience, through art and photography,” explained Shareef Sarhan, one of the founders of the gallery.
On 16 March, Shababeek once again opened its doors for an exhibition titled ‘Next to Here’, displaying photographs from 18 young photographers from 10 North African and Middle Eastern countries. In their photos, the photographers offer insight into different places and people – such as garbage collectors, abandoned amusement parks or refugee children in camps – captured in their home towns of, among others, Tunis, Algiers, Cairo, Amman, Erbil, Khartoum and Ramallah.
The exhibition attracted young and old, men and women, experts and laymen. “When we started with Shababeek in 2009, we attracted around 20 to 25 persons at openings; today, it is sometimes over 250 visitors. The interest of the Gaza people in culture, and not only Palestinian culture, is growing,” commented Shareef Sarhan.
The next day, in yet another corner of Gaza City, visitors at the popular Lighthouse restaurant were not only able to enjoy the view of the beach, but also look at the handmade products – including headscarves, purses, decorated mirrors and hand bags – exhibited by 36-year-old Shireen al-Rayyes and her 60-year-old mother, Nahla.
“Everyone who has an idea must follow through with it and implement it; all you need is to do the first step and ignore all potential obstacles which could hold you back,” explained Shireen as she talked about her business attitude, hoping that her own success could be an inspiration for others. She confirmed that despite the hardship Palestinians face in Gaza, there are still positive sides and ideas that can help people to overcome their difficult socioeconomic living conditions.
For many people in Gaza, and particularly for youth, art and creativity are not only a hobby, but a necessity or a way out of the cycles of unemployment, poverty, frustration and hopelessness.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance .