The Government of Belgium’s Generous Support to Education in Emergencies Gives Gaza Children a Voice

11 January 2018
My Voice My School 2017. © UNRWA Photo

“You hear my voice, you hear that sound, like thunder gonna shake your ground…'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar!” sing the Gaza teens at the UNRWA Asma School for Girls (A) over a patchy broadband connection to their peers in Brussels. Students from the Athenee Bruxelles School II are inspired to join in by voicing the Katy Perry pop-song lyrics. The online exchange is part of the My Voice-My School education project, which empowers Palestine refugee children by giving them a voice and an opportunity to communicate with their peers overseas.

Gazan and Belgian students are among the 300 young people participating in these virtual exchanges, which involve fifteen schools in Gaza, Syria, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Norway. For most of the Gaza UNRWA students, this is the first time they meet ‘foreigners’. Paired with overseas partner schools, they are working to advocate for the right of every child to a quality education, wherever they are.

Today, the Gaza girls are presenting the results of surveys they have designed and carried out on improving education in their school to their peers in Belgium. The class has identified noise as a factor affecting students’ education. There is a loud generator which provides electricity to the school. The generator makes up for Gaza’s debilitating power cuts, which can last between 12 and 22 hours per day. These have been caused by the destruction of infrastructure wrought by three deadly conflicts and a decade-long blockade.

Tarneem's class in Gaza has come up with a renewable energy idea to solve this problem: “We could use solar panels to produce clean energy instead of the generator.” The class believes that finding ways to reduce noise will improve the learning environment for students in one of most densely populated places on earth.

Student voice forms part of the innovative UNRWA Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme, which aims to ensure that the most vulnerable Palestine refugee children and youth are not left behind in times of emergencies. During times of crisis, the EiE programme provides students with alternative learning spaces and interactive self-learning materials so that they can continue learning, even when they cannot attend school regularly. 

The EiE programme also works to ensure physical and emotional wellbeing of students and education staff, through employing psychosocial support counsellors, providing recreational activities, and delivering safety and security training.  Crucially, the EiE programme engages students, parents and the community in supporting quality education in emergencies. Here, the My Voice-My School exchanges give some of the 262,000 Palestine refugee students in Gaza a voice to articulate what quality education means to them and provide them with some respite from their isolation.

For Khaled at the UNRWA Zaitoun Prep Boys "A" School, this is his first time he has the chance to practice his English. Speaking slowly through the laptop, he explains to his peers at GO! Atheneum Etterbeek, Belgium, that classroom repairs and new furniture are among the factors that contribute to quality education. In response, Syrene in Belgium asks, “I think the student council should do something, they can really help… Is there someone in the class who participates in the student council?” Hearing the question, one of Khaled’s classmates identifies himself as a school parliamentarian and healthy debate ensues about how students can get involved in supporting quality education.

It is thanks to Belgium’s support to EiE that Tarneem and Khaled can access safe education with a window onto the world. Belgium’s EUR 5 million, distributed over a two-year funding cycle, has been critical to keeping the UNRWA EiE programme afloat. Thanks to Belgium, these students can communicate across borders and have the chance to champion a better education for all. The classes will meet for a final time in January 2018, where they will be able to share and celebrate their advocacy projects. To attend a session, please contact UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

BELGIUM

Relations between UNRWA and the Kingdom of Belgium date back to 1953. In line with its main objective for humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, Belgium is a staunch supporter of UNRWA. Since 2010, Belgium has supported the Agency with over EUR 70 million. This includes annual contributions to the Agency’s Program Budget as well as support to specific projects, such as Education in Emergencies, and other UNRWA emergency operations in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territory.

My Voice-My School

My Voice-My School empowers youth by giving them a voice and an opportunity to communicate across borders about what makes a quality education. Based on online video conversations between Palestine refugee students in UNRWA schools and their peers in schools overseas, students explore each others’ lives as they discuss their ideas on improving education. The video conversations and specially designed curriculum materials support children to become advocates for their education and future. Co-developed with virtual learning specialists Digital Explorer, the My Voice-My School project has involved over 900 students from upper primary and middle schools since its inception in 2014. The end result reveals to all students the right of every child to a quality education, wherever they are. 

Background Information

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
Chief of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: 
+972 (0)258 90724
Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
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