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The Gaza 5K in San Francisco Supports Mental Health Care and Economic Opportunities for Palestine Refugees
UNRWA USA’s Signature Event
Initiated in 2012, the Gaza 5K is an annual family-friendly walk/run fundraiser hosted by the UNRWA USA National Committee (UNRWA USA) in different American cities. Proceeds from the Gaza 5K support UNRWA-led mental health services for Palestine refugee children and their families impacted by years of trauma as a result of the blockade, recurrent violence, volatile security situations, and protracted socioeconomic crises in the Gaza Strip. For the first time in five years, this year’s Gaza 5K returned to the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this month with a turnout of about 823 participants and fundraising nearing the $300,000 event goal.
Expanding Gaza’s IT Ecosystem
In addition to supporting life-enhancing mental health care for Palestine refugees, the event shed light on UNRWA’s Digital Futures theme, which sees Gaza’s potential to be the Silicon 'Coast’ of the Middle East. Despite the daily challenges, Palestine refugees are resilient, reliable, and ready for new economic opportunities. This especially applies to Gaza’s highly qualified and diverse workforce in the information technology sector. “The Digital Futures theme promotes tapping into the existing pool of human capital in Gaza to create new income-generating opportunities for Gaza-based youth while also solidifying the educational and career development pathways needed for a sustainable IT ecosystem over the next few decades,” said Mara Kronenfeld, Executive Director of UNRWA USA.
“Provision of basic services to Palestine refugees is something that UNRWA has been doing for over 70 years, but it is important that we continue exploring more developmental and sustainable solutions for young people and try to navigate ways of providing livelihood opportunities. We realize it is not easy, and this is why UNRWA is not going to be alone,” said Amal Khatib, Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, during a panel co-hosted with TechWadi on leveraging tech ecosystems to support economic growth in Gaza.
“Many Palestine refugees in Gaza want to be software engineers. With all the border restrictions that they live under, they see digital as the borderless means of working,” said Kaan Cetinturk, UNRWA CIO and Director of Information Management and Technology Department, reflecting on an encounter with 12-year-old students writing codes at an UNRWA girls’ school.
A Success Story: UNRWA IT Service Centre (ITSC)
Staffed by local Gaza-based IT graduates and young professionals, primarily Palestine refugees, the Centre has met the remote tech support and outsourcing needs for UNRWA and the wider United Nations system since its establishment in 2020. For the past couple of years, UNRWA has successfully collaborated with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC). By virtue of this partnership, Palestine refugees are locally hired as information management and technology staff at UNRWA to work on complex and large-scale projects for other UN agencies.
“Gaza is full of skilled, educated, and passionate IT graduates. The partnership that UNRWA’s IT Service Centre established with UNICC has created a huge opportunity to tap into the potential of youth in Gaza and strengthen their capabilities. By investing in the human capital of Palestine refugees, UNRWA and UNICC actively contribute to the realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We need support from all our donors and the private sector to be part of this successful journey,” said Mr. Cetinturk.
Substantial potential exists to expand this model and others like it to private clients – especially given Gaza’s high quality and diverse workforce. Through digitalization, UNRWA hopes to create an enabling environment to bridge economic divides and increase livelihoods for Palestine refugees.
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