Suleiman Alqam has spent nearly 60 years with UNRWA. As a child he attended UNRWA schools and received food aid in the West Bank. Later he worked for UNRWA’s health department and food distribution centres in Amman. As he approaches retirement, the years he has spent with the Agency have left him grateful for the opportunities given to him.
Born in Nuweimi camp in 1951, Suleiman’s family was originally from Barfilia, near Ramla. As refugees, Sulieman’s mother and father moved to Nuweimi camp in the West Bank in 1950 “in order to benefit from UNRWA schools, shelters and social services”.
Suleiman and his three younger sisters received a free education at UNRWA’s Nuweimi school, along with food that the agency distributed. When war broke out in 1967, the family relocated to Al Jaffah in Jordan. Soon after, Suleiman’s father died of a heart attack and Suleiman, despite being a good student with high grades, was forced to leave school while only in the 8th grade to support his family.
Suleiman began his work with UNRWA in 1971 and has continued to work for UNRWA in different capacities for nearly 40 years. “The work was not always easy,” Suleiman says.
“It was a difficult decision to work as a sanitation labourer in the camps while my friends and neighbours were all at school,” he says. “The camps were especially difficult to clean back then as the streets were not paved, making it difficult to drive carts and there were no plastic bags so garbage was thrown on the streets.”
Suleiman remembers people looking down on him for his work, but as the head of his family, Suleiman was grateful for the salary necessary to support his mother and sisters.
After forty years of work with UNRWA, Suleiman says the Agency has improved. It now provides more essential medicine and services, but, says Sulieman, could use more staff to carry out its work.
As for Suleiman’s family, his four children also went to UNRWA schools. They now have degrees in accounting and vehicle maintenance.
Suleiman says UNRWA has played an important role in his life. The Agency has provided an opportunity for education for him and his family, continued employment and stability.
Suleiman will retire next year, and looking back on his life with UNRWA, he is proud that his work has benefited not only his family but the families of other Palestine refugees.