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Using Technology to Bypass Gaza’s Youth Unemployment Crisis
Standing tall and proud, Asma Madi, a Palestine refugee living in Gaza, is a self-made woman and a force to be reckoned with. She realized early on in life that the key to success in the blockaded Gaza Strip is education. She took matters into her own hands and is now leading the way out of unemployment for many Gazan youth.
“I come from a family of eight,” she says. “My father is a labourer. He always dreamed of having a highly educated daughter. He noticed my inclination for education and academic research and encouraged me to pursue my academic career. When I graduated high school, I knew what field of education I would delve into! My father fully supported me but couldn’t afford university fees. So, I chose to study at the [UNRWA] Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC).”
Asma enrolled at KYTC in 2013 for a two-year diploma course in e-Business. The UNRWA e-Business programme is a combination of technological expertise and business skills development. It gives students an opportunity to learn essential business principles and functions, in parallel with information technology and web development. The programme accepts about 30 students a year, most of whom are women. After graduation, most graduates find jobs in the private information technology (IT) sector in Gaza or on freelancing platforms.
"Education was just the start, not only to being empowered but also to becoming influential. My days at KYTC were the best of my life. KYTC was the right place for me to unlock my potential, and here I am, a new Asma, exactly as I imagined and planned to be – strong, independent and influential," she says.
But Asma had a longer-term vision and started a career as a freelancer even before graduating from KYTC. Her freelancing jobs allowed her to save enough money to pay for university fees and - following her graduation from KYTC in 2015 - she enrolled in the University College of Science and Technology in Gaza, majoring in Business Administration Technology. She bought herself a new laptop, a key investment for her chosen profession.
"I graduated from university with distinction and my career was successful from the start. Following my graduation in 2018, I immediately started working on freelancing platforms,” she recalls. But Asma’s ambitions did not end there. She completed an additional training course at KYTC on user interface and experience design for digital products and took additional jobs while in training.
Again, Asma set her sights further. Intent on sharing her skills with others, she paved the way for scores of young women to break out of the cycle of unemployment in Gaza and became an instructor at KYTC. She understood very clearly that IT could take you beyond borders in Gaza, whose residents have faced 15-years of access and movement restrictions. "I always try to teach young graduates how to challenge unemployment. Nothing is more painful and devastating than being a jobless youth. People without work are people without hope in life, without a future," she says.
As a teacher at KYTC, Asma has trained 151 young graduates in freelancing and programming, 80 of whom are now employed. She recently started her own freelancing company (AM Freelancing), which has become a trademark in its field. “Part of my job is to provide training sessions to promising young graduates,” Asma highlighted.
As busy as she is, Asma continues to dream big, "I dream of bringing Gaza to the front lines of the world freelancing market. I can say that it can be an outlet for the high unemployment rate in Gaza. I believe that we can do more in Gaza. Technology is the blessing of our age. It breaks walls and borders. I encourage youth to invest in their own capacities. Nothing can stop the power of education. Nothing can stop a young person with a vision and dream. Having a dream is having a future.”
In 2021, the overall unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 47 per cent, one of the highest in the world. According to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among youth in Gaza holding intermediate diplomas or university degrees reached 74 per cent.[i] Courses like the e-Business course at the UNRWA Khan Younis Training Centre, in which Asma got her start, are designed to provide young Gazans with skills that will help them bypass the barriers imposed by 15-year access and movement restrictions and find employment on an international market. The programme curricula and staff capacity were developed based on local and international market needs and most students are able to find jobs even before graduation through freelancing platforms!
Generous support from UNRWA partners and donors, like the Government of the United States of America, ensures the delivery of technical education to young Palestine refugees at the Khan Younis Training Centre, and seven others like it. Overall, UNRWA teaches some 8,000 students at eight Technical Vocational and Training Centres throughout the Middle East region, ensuring that they are equipped with marketable skills for the modern job market.
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