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UNRWA alum, Soubhi Al-Aryan, donates computer lab to help refugee students in Jordan

Soubhi Al-Aryan, who now calls Austin, Texas home, knows the needs of a refugee student well. As an alumnus of the UNRWA school system, he remembers the obstacles he faced in Jordan in the 1960s. Still, he says that the environment UNRWA provided kept him focused and gave him the determination to “strive for a better life.”

Soubhi would eventually move to Kuwait and then to California where he completed a degree in civil engineering at the San Jose State University. It wasn’t an easy journey, he had to work several years before university just to pay for the plane ticket to the States. But Soubhi believes “education is essential to move forward in life” -- a value universally-shared by Palestinians. Education is what allowed him to get where he is today. And now he’s giving back.

The importance of education is a value instilled in UNRWA students by their families and by the Agency’s teachers, refugees themselves, from day one. In fact, for over 60 years UNRWA has worked to ensure that all the Palestine refugee children it serves have access to quality education to achieve his or her full potential. Having a deep appreciation for what UNRWA provided him as a young student and once the time was right, Soubhi knew he wanted to help other UNRWA students get the leg up they needed to succeed in life.

His most recent contribution to UNRWA came in the form of a brand new computer lab for Al-Jofeh Elementary Girls & Boys School in Jordan. The school, which is located in South Amman, an underprivileged area of the city, runs on a double-shift system with more than 1,300 Palestine refugee children from grade 1 through grade 5. As of June 2017, this refurbished computer lab, once obsolete, is now equipped with ten new computers, one new projector and a screen, and necessary electronic accessory items, all thanks to Soubhi.

Students like Sadine and Maya, fifth graders at the school, are thrilled to have access to this new lab.

“I like to know what lies beneath the oceans. It should be so beautiful!” says Sadine. Her favorite subject is science and she is fond of nature and animals particularly, the undersea world. Maya is interested in English language and wishes to improve her speaking and writing skills. “Listening to songs in English and following English language lessons on Youtube channels make the learning more enjoyable!”
 

Soubhi told us he wanted to provide refugee children with access to the latest technology, which they might not have at home. “Because the world is becoming a more globalized community, it is important for this new generation to have access to the internet and other educational tools that will enhance their future by increasing their chances of attending university and their employability.”

Soubhi chose UNRWA because of the lasting impact the Agency left on him. He knows the opportunities UNRWA has consistently provided Palestine refugees because he experienced them firsthand. Now he hopes to give that chance to others who are in the same position Soubhi was once in. He encourages us all to reflect on the opportunities given to us and to pay it forward.

You don't have to donate a computer lab to make a difference, but supporting UNRWA’s work gives Palestine refugee students, not just in Jordan, but around the Middle East, a chance at a better life.

You can find out more about what we do and how to support this work here.

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Today, the UNRWA school system is one of the largest in the region, with nearly 700 schools, UNRWA teaches nearly 500,000 children each year. According to a recent World Bank report, UNRWA’s students are among the most highly educated in the Middle East.

If you are looking to make a lasting investment to impact the future for Palestine refugees, please contact Abby Smardon, Executive Director, at abby@unrwausa.org.

Jameleh, a social entrepreneur for change

Jameleh, a social entrepreneur for change

Here we are with Jameleh, third to the left, and her colleagues! 

Here we are with Jameleh, third to the left, and her colleagues! 

Our staff gets to the Middle East as often as we can to follow up on the projects our donors are funding and to meet the people benefiting from UNRWA’s critical, and often life-saving services. This is a special time for us to share with the refugees we meet stories about you and all the things we’re doing in the United States as individuals.

I’ve been serving UNRWA USA since August 2015. In February of this year, it was my turn to visit the field -- my first time to Palestine. I am an American woman from the Pacific Northwest who grew up between Seattle, Hawaii, and Costa Rica, and with no familial ties to the region. I’ve always stood for progressive causes and social justice, so it was natural for me to join the staff of this organization, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to take a trip like this.

Because I know not everyone has the opportunity to visit Palestine, I am writing to share with you the experience through my perspective.

My colleague Nada and I met dozens of incredible humans on this first visit, but since my return, I've been thinking a lot about one particular person -- Jameleh. She’s a humble, yet very powerful woman who lives in Jericho, and is making life better for her neighbors through innovation. We met Jameleh in Aqbat Jaber, the refugee camp she's lived in all her life, just south of East Jerusalem.

Jameleh, the star of my story

Jameleh, the star of my story

Nada and I came to Aqbat Jaber as part of our tour of the West Bank to learn about different Cash-for-Work (CfW) programs (more about that later), including a new lunch program at the UNRWA school there.

We were welcomed by a delicious spread of traditional Palestinian food -- meat pies, kibbeh, tabbouleh. We may have thought we were just there for a tour, but we left with energy, inspiration, and an incredible story to share with all of you.

Palestinian meat pies made fresh by the amazing women we met in Aqbat Jaber

Palestinian meat pies made fresh by the amazing women we met in Aqbat Jaber

Back to Jameleh, my shero, and the star of my story. Jameleh was concerned about the school lunches children in her community and wanted to find a way to provide healthier meals. With help from CfW, she and her now business partners, started a cooking program in the camp. It grew so fast that soon, they were running the entire school’s lunch program and providing healthy, high quality, and affordable meals.

Today she runs her own Community-Based Organization (CBO) which is staffed by individuals participating in UNRWA’s CfW. I learned that UNRWA is working with all the CBOs in the Aqbat Jaber camp by supporting them with CfW laborers. CfW opportunities are created in coordination and based on the needs of local CBOs. This quarter alone, 77 CfW laborers are contracted to work in Aqbat Jaber. In 2016, 8,222 households overall benefited from CfW, including 4,833 male laborers and 3,389 female laborers.

This program offers an array of employment positions including working as administrative clerks with partner organizations, rehabilitating and maintaining schools, clinics, and other public structures, working in kindergartens, libraries, and other service offices. Other opportunities include rehabilitating public parks and playgrounds, maintaining multi-purpose halls and community centers, and enhancing public infrastructure including local roads, sidewalks, and water drainage and sanitation networks. CfW puts special emphasis on women, with initiatives aimed at encouraging innovative projects by women, like Jameleh's.

As a mother, a trained chef, and a person who is passionate about health, I was really moved by this program Jameleh started. Cooking and food is a universal experience and one of the most accessible ways to share our culture and history with others.

Jameleh and the other women didn’t stop with school lunches. Constantly paying it forward, profits from the lunch program were used to start a kindergarten, and then a guesthouse for tourists. With a little financial assistance and training from UNRWA, these women have made a BIG impact on their entire refugee community.

The guesthouse in Aqbat Jaber

The guesthouse in Aqbat Jaber

These are the kinds of people that you support through UNRWA's CfW. With the economy in the oPt crippled by 50 years of ongoing occupation, UNRWA provides much-needed opportunities for Palestine refugees to support themselves and their families.

As I said at the start of my story, these trips are such an important time for us to connect in person with the refugees UNRWA serves. I'm so happy I was able to represent you there and to tell these women about the work we're doing here in the United States.

Let's support the work they're doing there, so community visionaries like Jameleh have a chance to be who they dream to be.

-Sarah Gayoso, Events Officer, UNRWA USA

"The only thing that can change the future is education."

Hanan al-Hroub is a second-grade teacher at Samiha Khalil Secondary School, a governmental school in Ramallah. On February 17, it was announced that she was one of the top ten finalists for the Global Teacher Prize. The annual competition, facilitated by the UK-based Varkey Foundation, is a million dollar award presented every year to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

The prize serves to recognize and celebrate the efforts of teachers around the world and the impact they have on their students and communities. This year, Hanan is the only teacher from the Middle East who has been shortlisted in the top ten.

Originally from Dheisheh refugee camp, located on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Hanan explains that her life growing up in the camp was the main motivation to become a teacher: “It imbued me with the persistence and resilience I needed to face challenges.

Being a child in a refugee camp is different from being a child anywhere else in the world,” she explains. “Children elsewhere can enjoy their childhood, but not Palestinian children. The games that we played were affected by the surrounding conditions. You grow up aware and informed about the politics and what’s happening around you.”

But her eyes light up when we ask her about her memories as a student at the UNRWA Elementary School for Girls in Dheisheh. “I never forgot the quality of my education there or my teachers,” she recalls. “UNRWA teachers are very distinguished. They provide students with high-quality teaching and inspire them.”

She continues: “My school was unlike other schools at the time. We had plenty of games and the girls from my school would participate in the sporting competitions that took place in our districts. We also had many activities that stimulated our minds, challenged us mentally.” But the library at her school seems to have left the deepest impression on Hanan: “I still remember the library. It was full of books. You couldn’t find a library like that at any other school.”

“Being a child in a refugee camp is different from being a child anywhere else in the world,” recalls Hanan. Hanan grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp, located on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. © 2016 UNRWA photo by Alaa Ghosheh

As a teacher, she speaks passionately about how education can be used to counteract the negative impact of the violence that Palestinian children – particularly those living in the camps – are frequently exposed to. “When I was a child, I was exposed to violence. Even today, my own children and my students still suffer from violence, and it affects their behavior.” During the second intifada, Hanan’s husband, Omar, was injured after being shot by Israeli security forces. Her children, who witnessed the incident, were left in shock. “After that, I felt that they were suffering and isolated from the community,” she says. “They lacked confidence, and they were afraid to go to school for a while.” She believes that her children’s schools didn’t provide the psychosocial support they needed to deal with the trauma in the aftermath of their father’s injury, and it affected their performance in the classroom. The experience inspired Hanan – then a first-year student at Open Al-Quds University – to study elementary education so that she could help other children who had been exposed to violence to overcome the psychosocial effects and trauma that often follow. “If children who suffer from violence are not given the assistance and support they need, they will be lost,” she says.  

“From the very beginning, I make sure that the students understand that in that classroom we are a family – we belong to each other,” says Hanan. “I feel as though I am very important to them.” © 2016 UNRWA photo by Alaa Ghosheh

Hanan’s inspiring approach to education centers on ‘Play and Learn’, whereby she integrates educational games into the classroom, often using tools and toys created from everyday household materials. She also emphasizes the importance of creating a ‘safe space’ for her students where they can learn in a peaceful, happy and comfortable environment.

“By playing these games with my students, I try to decrease the effect of violence among them, particularly those who themselves exhibit violent behavior,” she says. “I try to change these behaviors – which often contribute to a lack of participation and focus – and replace them with confidence, dialogue and mutual respect.” 

Hanan explains that she often tailors her teaching and games to meet the unique needs, skills and capacities of her students: “It’s important that the students understand that they all have a role to play in their future, even if their academic outcomes aren’t high.” She adds, “From the very beginning, I make sure that the students understand that in that classroom we are a family – we belong to each other. I feel as though I am very important to them.”

Her efforts have had a noticeable impact; today, her approach is widely replicated by her colleagues and has led to a decline in violent behavior in schools where it is applied. She has shared her experiences at conferences and seminars and detailed the methodologies she uses in her book, We Play and Learn.

When asked how she feels about being shortlisted for the prestigious award, she smiles warmly. “For me, it shows that the world recognizes, believes in and respects this kind of approach to education. It also shows that Palestinian teachers can be creative, face challenges and compete despite the circumstances we live in.”

She adds: “The only thing that can change the future is education. Education can affect change and help us build the Palestinian community and state we want.”

Hanan al-Hroub was announced as the winner of the million dollar 2016 Global Teacher Prize during the awards ceremony held in Dubai on Sunday, March 24, 2016. The announcement was made by Pope Francis in a video message broadcast at the event, which also featured tributes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prince William, former US President Bill Clinton and Stephen Hawking. UNRWA congratulates Hanan on her inspiring achievements and celebrates the remarkable contributions that teachers like her make every day in Palestine and around the world.

Meet Amal & Mahmud

A Palestine refugee family’s story from Syria to Lebanon…

21 year old Amal describes how she was forced to quit her education and to flee the conflict in Syria by moving to Lebanon. “We had a life in Syria,” said her father Mahmud man, sitting in his small flat in the crammed Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in a suburb of Beirut, in Lebanon. “We thought we were coming to paradise, but in fact, life here is hell.” This is the situation from many Palestine refugee families who are forced to flee the lives they set up and start over with nothing, in a brand new place.

Mahmud, a Palestinian refugee, fled Syria in 2012 with his wife and daughter. The family moved to different parts of Beirut, but unfortunately in Beirut, the rents are quite high. After dwindling resources, they were forced to move into Shatila, in the south of Beirut.

Under Lebanese law, Mahmud, a former shop owner, is unable to work so he now relies on his 21 year old daughter to support the family. “In Syria I was at university studying trade and commerce but now I am the source of income for my family. I have a good education so I work teaching private lessons,” Amal.

An icon two years on begs some unsettling questions

Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson

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It is now two years since the iconic photo of thousands of bewildered, besieged civilians in the Palestine refugee camp of Yarmouk, Damascus was taken. Traumatized and drained of all emotion, children, women, the sick, the elderly, the dying waited in the besieged camp for food from UNRWA, the UN agency mandated to bring them aid. It was an image whose graphic power seared itself into the collective memory of our age, as the word “Yarmouk” was added to the appalling lexicon of man’s inhumanity to man. The photo went viral and thus became an icon of Syria’s pitiless conflict.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon was later to describe Yarmouk as akin to the lower regions of hell; a refugee camp that had become a death camp. Yarmouk was once home to some 150,000 Palestinians. Each has a humanity, an individual dignity that must be recognized, respected and nurtured.

Yet two years on, as peace talks begin in Geneva and just days before the London conference on Syria, this haunting image begs some discomfiting questions. Where are the individuals now, whose faces stare compelling out at us? Are they alive or dead? Did they become part of a lost generation? Were they left behind? The majority are Palestinians yet is the plight of this marginalized community being overlooked, dwarfed by the sheer enormity of the Syrian tragedy?

We owe it to each and every individual in that photo, to ourselves and to future generations to find answers to these questions. Without them, the stain that is Yarmouk will forever be on the conscience of humanity

Meet Jaleelah

Meet Jaleelah, a Bedouin Palestine refugee living near Jabal al baba. Like many other refugees, Jaleelah faces constant hardships, especially during the harsh winter. ““Our home is made of zinc sheets and the rainwater leaks into our house from all sides. In the winter, my children are usually soaked by the time they get to school because we do not have transportation. We cannot depend on electrical heating because of frequent power cuts. If there is a windstorm or heavy rain, the roof of our house might be blown away.”- Jaleel.

Imagine living under the constant fear that your home could too be ripped away from you at a second. Imagine not knowing when the next time your family will have a meal is. Life as a refugee is not easy, and it is our mission to help the less fortunate. UNRWA has provided assistance to 5 million plus Palestine refugees, but through increased funding we would like to help out the entire refugee population.

UNRWA condemns demolition of the homes of Palestine refugee Bedouins families at risk of forcible transfer; decries desperate humanitarian consequences

Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, Felipe Sanchez, has condemned the demolition of Bedouin homes in the West Bank by the Israeli authorities. “The humanitarian consequences of this destruction of property are grave and I am seriously concerned, particularly about the children who are now homeless,” said Sanchez.

The demolitions were carried out on the morning of January 6, 2016 by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the vulnerable community of Abu Nwar, in Area C near East Jerusalem. In the midst of the winter, a total of five residential structures were demolished, leaving 26 refugees, including 17 children, displaced and without a home.

With more than 7,000 inhabitants, the majority of them Palestine refugees, Abu Nwar is one of 50 Palestinian Bedouin communities in Area C that have been slated for transfer to three proposed “relocation” sites by the Israeli authorities. The communities have refused to be relocated and have faced the daily threat of their homes being demolished.

In May 2015, the UN warned about the rapidly advancing plans to transfer the Palestinian Bedouins and the risk of demolitions after residents of Abu Nwar were informed by the Israeli authorities that they would have to move to the Al Jabal area outside of East Jerusalem, where the preparation of the ground had been taking place for several months.

Prior to and during the demolitions on January 6, 2016, residents were repeatedly informed by Israeli Civil Administration officials to move to the proposed transfer site of Al Jabal West. UNRWA has been providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the displaced communities.

Demolishing residential structures exacerbates an already coercive environment, driving Bedouin communities off the land they have inhabited for decades. UNRWA recalls that Israel, as the Occupying Power, has strict obligations under international law regarding the prohibition of the destruction of private property and of forcible transfer, including as a result of policies creating a coercive environment. Forcible transfer is a grave breach under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“The distress in the community is heartbreaking,” said Sanchez. “When children should be enjoying their holidays from school, they are instead picking up the broken pieces of their destroyed homes. How can a child grow up in such an environment? I condemn these demolitions and reiterate my call to respect the Bedouins’ decision to remain where they are,” said Sanchez. “I urge the Israeli authorities to halt all plans and practices that will directly or indirectly lead to the forcible transfer of the Bedouin.”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, deepening poverty and conflict. As a result, the UNRWA General Fund, which supports core essential services and most staffing costs, operates with a large deficit. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, 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 solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Meet Sham.

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Sham, on the right, was 10 days old when her father left to try to reach Europe. He never made it, dying in a traffic accident in the desert between Sudan and Libya.

Like so many Palestine refugees from Syria, Sham’s family is struggling to survive in Lebanon. #shareyourwarmth with them.

https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/shareyourwarmth

© 2015 UNRWA photo by Maysoun Mustafa

UNRWA Promotes Diversity and Tolerance on Human Rights Day Sounds of laughter and children playing games drifted across the school yard on an unusually warm and sunny December morning. One could assume this was a normal day at the Aqbat Jabr Coed School in Jericho, however today was different, today they were celebrating Human Rights Day. The excitement in the air was palpable as students performed plays, songs and dances around the different themes of diversity, tolerance, equality and more. UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan brought together students, parents and teachers along with representatives from countries around the world to participate in activities to mark the day. Most activities were from the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) toolkit which is part of a United States-funded education program that supports the integration of these human rights concepts into all subjects. Some guests were asked to identify actions that promote diversity, others watched as students acted out a skit about gender equality. One classroom demonstrated an exercise on democratic processes and leadership as they cast ballots for their new school parliament representative. Heba abu Laban, a 13-year-old member of her school parliament in Gaza, has been studying human rights since first grade and talks about her experience. “I have learned a lot about diversity and human rights. Now I know that people have different religions or colors, but while we all have the right to be different, we need to be treated equally.” Human rights education is not only about knowledge and understanding. It is also about changing attitudes and behavior. Explaining the impact of this program, UNRWA teacher Maison Askar said, “what I have observed is that there is less intolerance among students in the school, they are more respectful with each other and towards each other’s opinions. They consciously listen to each other.” Throughout the year the HRCRT program helps cultivate an environment of understanding, tolerance and appreciation for differences, both inside and outside the classroom. One involved parent remarked, “By learning about human rights in the UNRWA school, my children gained different perspectives regarding certain issues. They became more tolerant of other viewpoints, and they listened to others.” The HRCRT Toolkit is being implemented in an increasingly challenging environment across all five fields of UNRWA operations, where some children witness and experience human rights violations first hand on a regular basis. Teaching children to resolve conflicts through dialogue rather than violence, and to respect each other’s rights is an important component of the programme, which also extends to the entire community through events and advocacy videos. Thanks to the generous support of the United States, this program enables all 500,000 students enrolled in UNRWA schools to promote a culture of human rights.

UNRWA Promotes Diversity and Tolerance on Human Rights Day

Sounds of laughter and children playing games drifted across the school yard on an unusually warm and sunny December morning. One could assume this was a normal day at the Aqbat Jabr Coed School in Jericho, however today was different, today they were celebrating Human Rights Day. The excitement in the air was palpable as students performed plays, songs and dances around the different themes of diversity, tolerance, equality and more.

UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan brought together students, parents and teachers along with representatives from countries around the world to participate in activities to mark the day. Most activities were from the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) toolkit which is part of a United States-funded education program that supports the integration of these human rights concepts into all subjects.

Some guests were asked to identify actions that promote diversity, others watched as students acted out a skit about gender equality. One classroom demonstrated an exercise on democratic processes and leadership as they cast ballots for their new school parliament representative. Heba abu Laban, a 13-year-old member of her school parliament in Gaza, has been studying human rights since first grade and talks about her experience. “I have learned a lot about diversity and human rights. Now I know that people have different religions or colors, but while we all have the right to be different, we need to be treated equally.”

Human rights education is not only about knowledge and understanding. It is also about changing attitudes and behavior. Explaining the impact of this program, UNRWA teacher Maison Askar said, “what I have observed is that there is less intolerance among students in the school, they are more respectful with each other and towards each other’s opinions. They consciously listen to each other.”

Throughout the year the HRCRT program helps cultivate an environment of understanding, tolerance and appreciation for differences, both inside and outside the classroom. One involved parent remarked, “By learning about human rights in the UNRWA school, my children gained different perspectives regarding certain issues. They became more tolerant of other viewpoints, and they listened to others.”

The HRCRT Toolkit is being implemented in an increasingly challenging environment across all five fields of UNRWA operations, where some children witness and experience human rights violations first hand on a regular basis. Teaching children to resolve conflicts through dialogue rather than violence, and to respect each other’s rights is an important component of the programme, which also extends to the entire community through events and advocacy videos.

Thanks to the generous support of the United States, this program enables all 500,000 students enrolled in UNRWA schools to promote a culture of human rights.

3 ways you can contribute to the #ShareYourWarmth campaign this winter: 1) Create a free fundraising page, set a goal, and encourage your friends and family to join the campaign by donating to you! https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/events/unrwa-usas-givingtuesday-campaign/e63866 2) Like and share our #shareyourwarmth posts on social media to raise awareness about Palestine refugees and UNRWA’s programs in the Middle East. Your efforts will amplify our outreach to folks across the United States. Every little bit counts towards providing warmth to Palestine refugees this winter! 3) Change your cover photo to let friends and family know about the #shareyourwarmth campaign.


3 ways you can contribute to the #ShareYourWarmth campaign this winter:

1) Create a free fundraising page, set a goal, and encourage your friends and family to join the campaign by donating to you!

https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/events/unrwa-usas-givingtuesday-campaign/e63866

2) Like and share our #shareyourwarmth posts on social media to raise awareness about Palestine refugees and UNRWA’s programs in the Middle East. Your efforts will amplify our outreach to folks across the United States. Every little bit counts towards providing warmth to Palestine refugees this winter!

3) Change your cover photo to let friends and family know about the #shareyourwarmth campaign.

Did you know UNRWA’s Health Care program has provided health services to Palestine refugees for over 60 years? In the areas where UNRWA operates, at least 50% of registered Palestine refugees access its health services. In Gaza, nearly 100% depend on UNRWA for health care. Help Palestine refugees get the care they desperately need: https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org

Did you know UNRWA’s Health Care program has provided health services to Palestine refugees for over 60 years? In the areas where UNRWA operates, at least 50% of registered Palestine refugees access its health services. In Gaza, nearly 100% depend on UNRWA for health care.

Help Palestine refugees get the care they desperately need: https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org

EIGHT YEARS OF THE BLOCKADE: The illegal blockade on Gaza affects every aspect of daily life from unemployment to infant mortality to food insecurity to electricity outages and more. In part due to this ongoing blockade, nearly 100% of children in Gaza need immediate counseling. Positive mental health initiatives are absolutely vital to ensuring stability and a future for the children of Gaza. Participating the #Gaza5K will help give these children the help and care they need. The San Francisco Gaza 5K is only TWO DAYS  away on Saturday, October 17 and the LA/ Orange County Gaza 5K is the following, Saturday, October 24. Sign up today to do your part to help the kids of Gaza: gaza5K.org


EIGHT YEARS OF THE BLOCKADE: The illegal blockade on Gaza affects every aspect of daily life from unemployment to infant mortality to food insecurity to electricity outages and more.

In part due to this ongoing blockade, nearly 100% of children in Gaza need immediate counseling. Positive mental health initiatives are absolutely vital to ensuring stability and a future for the children of Gaza. Participating the #Gaza5K will help give these children the help and care they need.

The San Francisco Gaza 5K is only TWO DAYS  away on Saturday, October 17 and the LA/ Orange County Gaza 5K is the following, Saturday, October 24. Sign up today to do your part to help the kids of Gaza: gaza5K.org

It’s not easy to succeed in school when you’re battling PTSD. The #Gaza5K will directly benefit children in Gaza who need mental healthcare in order to treat their psychological trauma. The San Francisco Gaza 5K is October 17, which is only 3 DAYS away, and the LA/Orange County Gaza 5K is happening one week later on October 24. Don’t miss your chance to sign up and do your part to help the kids of Gaza! https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/charity/charity?cid=19825

It’s not easy to succeed in school when you’re battling PTSD. The #Gaza5K will directly benefit children in Gaza who need mental healthcare in order to treat their psychological trauma.

The San Francisco Gaza 5K is October 17, which is only 3 DAYS away, and the LA/Orange County Gaza 5K is happening one week later on October 24. Don’t miss your chance to sign up and do your part to help the kids of Gaza! https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/charity/charity?cid=19825

We’re so excited for the California Gaza5K races that are only weeks away! Haven’t registered yet? There’s still time to sign up: gaza5k.org.

We’re so excited for the California Gaza5K races that are only weeks away! Haven’t registered yet? There’s still time to sign up: gaza5k.org.

Looking Towards the Future

11 September 2015

“It made me happy to go to school to meet friends and learn things that I never knew,“ says seven-year-old Aya Kassem. Aya had her leg amputated two years ago after a mortar exploded nearby as she was walking home from kindergarten in Jaramana, Damascus. She underwent a number of operations and has had to learn to walk again with an artificial leg provided by UNRWA.

Despite the physical trauma she has endured, Aya is excited to return to the UNRWA al-Qdairiyeh School in Jaramana camp this September and work towards realizing her dreams. She is one of thousands of Palestine refugee children in Syria who are coping with enduring physical and emotional trauma as a result of the protracted crisis. Education is a critical source of normalcy and stability for children faced with prolonged displacement and hardship, and allows them to hope for a brighter future.

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Seven-year-old Aya Qasem, originally from Jaramana camp in Damascus, is one of the thousands of Palestine refugee children who are excited to return to school this September. Her favorite subjects are mathematics and English. Like many, she has overcome unimaginable odds to get there. © 2015 UNRWA photo by Taghrid Mohammad

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Aya will be among more than 45,000 Palestine refugee children in grades one through nine who will return to UNRWA schools in Syria this September. Education plays a critical role in providing stability and hope for the thousands of children who have been impacted by displacement, hardship and violence. Of the 560,000 Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Syria prior to the crisis, more than 50 per cent have been displaced at least once – one third of the displaced population are children.

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Aya’s life was changed forever two years ago. On October 33, 2013, she and her sister were on their way back home from the UNRWA kindergarten in Jaramana camp when a mortar shell landed nearby in the street. They were taken to the hospital where Aya’s left lower leg was amputated, the first of a number of operations that she has endured. Jaramana camp, Damascus. © 2015 UNRWA photo by Taghrid Mohammad

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Aya’s father, 34-year-old Mowafaq Ali Kassem, used to work in a factory to support his family of five children, including his young son, Muhammad, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and passed away in 2014. Mowafaq quit his job after Aya lost her leg in order to help with the many responsibilities at home; when his wife is away, he takes care of cleaning the house and preparing food for the children. © 2013 UNRWA photo by Carole Alfarah

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UNRWA first met Aya and her family in late 2013. “I was going back home from school with Maram, and I was wearing my brown shoes,” said Aya. “As we were walking the mortar exploded. The shoe just flew and my leg flew with it. I lost my leg – my leg was gone.” Here, Aya is pictured coloring in the living room, while her sister Maram (left) and her late brother Muhammad (right) look on. © 2013 UNRWA photo by Carole Alfarah

When she was able to leave the hospital, UNRWA provided Aya with a wheelchair. Six months later, she was fitted for her first artificial limb by UNRWA doctors. Aya is one of the 869 Palestine refugees who received prosthetic devices from UNRWA in 2014. 40% of those who received artificial limbs had sustained injuries as a result of the crisis, with 16% of recipients aged between 5 and 15 years old. Jaramana camp, Damascus. © 2015 UNRWA photo by Taghrid Mohammad

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Sadly, Aya’s story is just one example of the ongoing conflict’s devastating impact on civilians in Syria, including Palestine refugees. In addition to physical injuries sustained as a result of the crisis, Palestine refugee children in Syria are suffering from psychological trauma caused by displacement, hardship and insecurity. UNRWA has trained 55 counselors in Syria to provide psychosocial support to 45,000 students who attend UNRWA schools. Jaramana camp, Damascus. © 2015 UNRWA photo by Taghrid Mohamm

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Many children also face physical barriers in attending school. Of the 118 UNRWA schools in Syria prior to the crisis, only 48 are operational today, and the remainder are inaccessible or damaged due to the conflict or have been repurposed as temporary collective shelters. Remaining schools are overcrowded and running double or triple shifts. With support from the Ministry of Education, UNRWA is providing education facilities in 47 government school buildings. Qabr Essit, Rif Damascus.

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Aya is an inspiring example of bravery and resilience. With her prosthetic limb, she feels like herself again and dreams of becoming a dentist in the future. She believes that she and her friends must study hard so they can give back to their community. “I love going to school!” she says. Jaramana camp, Damascus. © 2015 UNRWA photo by Taghrid Mohammad