Listening to the youth: A Deir El-Balah camp improvement focus group meeting

05 August 2015
Youth gathered to participate and input ideas through a focus group meeting regarding camp improvement priorities. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

Eleven young men between the ages of 16 and 22 have gathered around a long wooden table in the UNRWA Camp Improvement Project office in Deir El-Balah, central Gaza. They listen carefully to the project team staff who are giving a short introduction on the aim of the project itself and the community participatory approach used for its implementation. This approach includes focus group meetings, surveys, consultations and online tools to enable camp residents to set priorities about how the living conditions in their camp can best be improved.

The young men sitting at the table belong to one of nine focus groups that discuss camp improvement priorities. Other groups represent children, female youth, working women, working men, fishermen, people with special needs, elderly men and housewives. “It is very important for us to participate in this meeting,” commented one young man who eagerly participated in the group discussions. “UNRWA needs to hear the voice of the community because they know best what their own needs are.”

After an individual five-minute brainstorming session, the participants engaged in a lively debate about the needs, requirements and priorities for the camp improvement project. Green areas, new health centres, wider streets, larger schools, better water quality and regular electricity provision were all among the urgencies raised by the male youth.

“We need to get rid of the noise. The houses are too close to each other; as youth, we have no chance to relax, think and plan our future,” commented one participant advocating for street expansion. Another participant voiced their support: “That’s true, not even the children can play in these narrow streets.”

A third focus group member argued for awareness-raising sessions to be included in any infrastructural change: “We need to address the basis of the problem and work with the people to avoid the camp from being deteriorated again after it has been improved.”

UNRWA shares the results of the focus group meetings, as well as the survey and other outreach tools, with community leaders and UNRWA urban planners who will attempt to translate them into financially and technically feasible project components that represent the community consensus. The physical construction of the camp improvement project will begin next year.

The three-year, US$ 40 million initiative is generously funded by the programme of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Reconstruction of Gaza through the Islamic Development Bank.