Thousands of refugee children headed to UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip this week for their first day of the school year.
Unlike children in many other parts of the world, UNRWA students in Gaza attend classes amidst difficult conditions that affect all aspects of their lives – both inside and outside of the classroom. The Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip, tightened even further five years ago, remains the driving force behind these conditions, creating unemployment, poverty, and dire economic consequences.
For families with children, that means the first week back at school will be difficult as they struggle to afford basic school supplies required for classes. Although UNRWA provides textbooks, pens, pencils, and erasers to help students participate, families still face the challenge of purchasing uniforms, new shoes, and school bags. Some families choose to forgo the additional expense, and their children wear the same worn-out uniforms from year to year.
Yet parents across the Gaza Strip place a high value on sending their children to school, recognising that a good education can help them create a better life in the future. Across the beleaguered territory, Palestine refugees hold out hope that an UNRWA education can help them overcome the harsh reality of life under blockade.
Despite all these obstacles, students were all smiles as they entered classrooms today, happy to see their friends again. They also met their new teachers, who welcomed their students in a festive atmosphere to ease the pressure of the first day.
UNRWA schools also offer practical support to ease the learning challenges of refugee students living in poverty. In addition to providing stationery supplies, the Agency runs a school feeding programme to address the needs of children from the 60 per cent of Gaza families experiencing or threatened by food insecurity.
And as the youth population continues to grow in Gaza, demands on these vital programmes are expected to increase even further, requiring investments to build new schools and maintain the quality of education for refugee students.
Inspired by the resilience and dedication of young Palestine refugees in Gaza, UNRWA and its supporters and ready to rise to the challenge.