Learning lessons, strengthening teamwork, maintaining compassion: UNRWA Collective Centres

06 May 2015
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team member Mohammed Atallah shares his experience with other Collective Centre Management Unit staff during a training on ‘lessons learned‘ held on 26 April in Gaza City. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

“The most important output from this training is to find and discuss the most successful approaches in the management of UNRWA Collective Centres,” said Ansa Masaud, head of the UNRWA Collective Centres Management Unit (CCMU) at the beginning of a ‘lessons learned’ event held on 26 April for 25 UNRWA staff members in Gaza City.

The CCMU was established after the 2014 summer hostilities and its team has since then tirelessly worked to coordinate assistance – ranging from the provision of food and non-food items to information management or WASH and health activities – for the ongoing displacement crisis in Gaza. 

“Our work during the conflict was very challenging; the quick actions and decisions we had to take on a daily basis empowered us and increased our experience in dealing with emergency situations,” commented Hazem Abu Karsh, member of the CCMU Information Management Team, on his lessons learned during last summer’s conflict. “The most difficult issue was to deal with the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a professional way while managing our own fears and our compassion for those people,” he added.

Other ‘lessons learned’ that were discussed during the retreat include the importance of providing dispute resolution mechanisms to the IDPs in order to maintain social cohesion, the recruitment of collective centre (CC) staff from outside the CC to avoid conflicts of interest in the delivery of humanitarian assistance while at the same time ensuring IDP participation in the management of the CCs, or the prioritization of shelter assistance payments to the IDPs in order to quickly initiate the transition to private shelters.

“This training today is very crucial because it allows us to learn from the experience of the different teams involved in the CCMU work; we try to enhance our internal communication,” observed Haneen Atallah who is coordinating the delivery of non-food items such as blankets and mattresses to the CCs.

Throughout the 2014 July/August hostilities, dedicated UNRWA staff provided humanitarian assistance to over 290,000 displaced in 90 of 156 UNRWA school buildings, with the remaining school buildings either unsafe or damaged. On 23 August, a record high of 292,959 IDPs were counted in 85 UNRWA schools. It was not until 9 October that IDP numbers dropped below the 50,000 mark. Today, eight months after the ceasefire, UNRWA still provides shelter to approximately 4,900 IDPs in its eight remaining CCs.