21 May 2009
The Damascus Training Centre (DTC) is an example of how the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and its donors succeed in providing valuable skills and opportunities for young Palestine refugees in Syria. Financial support from the European Commission (EC), Japan (JICA support through sending experts in various fields) and the United States has contributed massively to the running and continuation of the DTC, established in 1961. The regular operational costs are funded by the General Fund (GF).
In its early years, the Centre provided education for 200 students. It now offers both technical and vocational training courses to around 1000 Palestinian young people. There are two tracks for students to follow, referred to as ‘blue collar’ and ‘white collar’ courses. The first track enables students to choose one of thirteen vocational classes. Carpentry and furniture making, auto mechanics, and clothing technology are three of the wide-ranging course options available. The second track focuses on more technical pursuits. Among the nine options available to students of this track, electronics and computer technology, assistant engineering and computer information systems are three courses which offer technical knowledge and experience, improving the employment prospects of young Palestinians.
"Lately, the Centre has opened new courses and these courses suit the students’ society that needs them," commented Osama Qasem, an English instructor in the second track. Together with Zakaria Hameed, Mr. Qasem founded the popular ‘English Club’, an extra-curricula class that takes place three times per week. The English Club is a melting pot of ideas and opinions and offers a forum for intercultural understanding and lively discussion in the English language. International volunteers and eager young Palestinians relish the opportunity to meet with each other in a learning environment. "Their openness and willingness to soak up the language really impressed me and gives me great hope for their futures," enthused one volunteer. The practical skills offered by the courses give the students opportunity to be successful in the workforce – an opportunity many would otherwise forego.
However, there is room for more improvement. The Centre needs to invest in a variety of new facilities to ensure that all students have the best chance to get the most from their opportunity there. More technical equipment, more opportunities to learn English and more training for teachers are crucial to continue and improve the success of the DTC. Together, these would improve the quality of education provided. Of course, "upgrading courses needs funding", acknowledges Fawzi al-Madfaa, the Principal of the centre. Funding such as that from the EC makes a tangible difference to the quality of service supplied.
The programmes provided by the Centre are being developed to give students specific skills and a genuine chance of future employment. "We work directly for the needs of the market. We make vocational training most cost and time effective," states al-Madfaa.
"My studies here have been great. The things I have learned should help me to have a good career," says Basel, a student at the centre. Like Basel, many students have benefited from the support they have found at the DTC since its establishment. The Centre is undoubtedly a crucial step in the lives of so many hopeful and ambitious young Palestinians – a step that would not have been possible without the additional financial support received from the EC, Japan and the US, in addition to funding provided through UNRWA’s General Fund.
Helene Weiss and Matthew Loffman
Photos: Helene Weiss