18 November 2012
As the violence intensifies in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been using its innovative and unprecedented educational satellite TV channel to bring lessons to some quarter of a million children in Gaza. The channel, known as UNRWA TV, is the first United Nations television channel of its sort in the Middle East and was created and developed by UNRWA staff, who have done everything from transforming a vocational training centre into a film set, to writing scripts, making costumes, training actors, and developing story lines and programmes.
“There’s not much good news out of Gaza right now”, said Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner, “but UNRWA TV has come of age. It is precisely in response to situations of conflict that this sort of distance learning is so valuable. The fact that we have been able to broadcast in these terrible circumstances is a tribute to the creativity and ingenuity of the UNRWA staff and beneficiaries who established it.”
With some 245 UNRWA schools closed and 225,000 students forced to stay at home, UNRWA TV provides classes in Arabic, English, and mathematics to all UNRWA students and has been broadcasting 12 hours of lessons per day since the fighting began. A recent survey showed that the channel has secured a 41-per-cent student viewership in Gaza, with more than 80 per cent of viewers and their parents reporting the channel had led to improved academic achievement.
But while praising UNRWA TV, Turner also paid tribute to the rest of his team working amid the violence, and indicated that other services were also continuing: “All 21 UNRWA health clinics have been open. Health staff voluntarily reported to work in the health centre closest to their residence and all but one health centre is providing the full range of services to refugees.
“Scheduled food distributions are continuing in UNRWA’s distribution centres, assistance that is absolutely critical for the 800,000 refugees who rely on food aid from UNRWA. Sanitation workers will also return to duty tomorrow in the refugee camps. I cannot praise enough the commitment and bravery of my team.”
Turner concluded, “Lest anyone under-estimate the risk facing humanitarian workers right now in Gaza, let me again pay tribute to our teacher who was killed by an airstrike earlier this week in northern Gaza. My heart goes out to his family and all our staff risking their lives to serve our beneficiaries in these terrible times.”