We work with community-based organizations (CBOs) to strengthen Palestine refugees’ capacity to formulate and implement sustainable social services for vulnerable members of their communities, such as women and people with disabilities. Across the five UNRWA fields, we have partnerships with over 100 CBOs, which provide services including skills training, rehabilitation and recreational activities. In turn, the CBOs have formed partnerships with other organizations – local and international, governmental and non-governmental.
CBOs have their own budgets and bank accounts; they are autonomous, not-for-profit entities, whose incomes and revenues serve their own needs exclusively. Therefore, CBOs are expected to gradually become operationally sustainable, covering their running costs through self-generated income and/or donations.
Each CBO is supervised by a local administrative committee (LAC) of community members, primarily women. This form of community ownership generates increased outreach and makes each centre more self-reliant. The CBOs can develop their own rules for day-to-day operations and members’ responsibilities, while UNRWA works to support and strengthen their management capacity.
The RSS programme provides CBOs with in-kind support, for example the provision of premises, furniture, equipment or subsidies. The amount of support varies from centre to centre, as we prioritize those CBOs undertaking new initiatives with significant community impact.
Currently, a network of over 62 Women’s Programme Centres (WPCs) work across UNRWA fields, providing Palestine refugee women with unique, socially acceptable venues in which they can socialize and participate in educational, cultural and recreational activities. The WPCs also offer skills training, microloans, advice and education, helping women become more self-reliant.
The 36 Community Rehabilitation Centres (CRCs) across the Agency advocate for the rights of Palestine refugees with disabilities, with nearly 20,000 persons benefiting from their range of services each year.
More recently, 7 Community Development Centres (CDCs) were established in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, in lieu of WPCs or CRCs. The CDCs aim to be inclusive places, accessible to and serving all members of the Palestine refugee community.
In 1953, UNRWA set up 22 sewing centres to provide women with training in traditional practices such as sewing, knitting and embroidery. In the late 1980s, these were converted into WPCs, becoming focal points for UNRWA efforts with Palestine refugee women.
The first Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) was established in Gaza in 1962. Twenty years later, using funds raised during the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons, UNRWA launched its first pilot project to provide services to Palestine refugees with disabilities, in the Souf Palestine refugee camp, in Jordan. By the end of 1989, similar projects had expanded across the Agency.
In the 1990s, RSS began to take on the role of a facilitator, rather than a service provider, encouraging Palestine refugees to become more actively involved in identifying their priorities and organizing needed activities. Our staff now work on the development of local committees and building the institutional and financial capacity of the WPCs and CRCs.
With UNRWA support, CBOs are evaluating their annual performance in accordance with recognized management, technical and financial standards. Using a participatory process, a CBO Capacity Assessment Tool (CAT) highlights each organization’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing CBOs to address those areas identified as needing improvement through annual action plans. Since baseline measurements were made in 2011, the CAT shows that CBOs have shown improvement against managerial, financial and technical standards.