By Najwa Sheikh - Gaza
The month of Ramadan has come this year to the people of Gaza along with the new school year reminding them of the hard living conditions they have endured with the crushing blockade that Israel imposed on Gaza for the third year; A blockade that does not allow even for the basic needs such as medications, flour, building materials, papers, books and stationary for the new school year.
With such deteriorating living and financial conditions, the people of Gaza have lost the taste of the joyful Ramadan nights. Before, they used to go to the markets to buy various goods available especially in this holy month, but this year, children even found themselves unable to have the regular Ramadan “fanous” (lantern) due to the high price of even these simple toys. Most children were satisfied with homemade lanterns fashioned from empty juice or cola bottles.
However, the effect of this inhumane blockade did not allowed people to live normal lives, and has added more stress to the work of the largest relief organization in the gaza Strip. UNRWA is providing education, healthcare, social services, and emergency aid to over one million refugees living on the Strip all of whom are entirely dependent on the services provided by the agency.
Providing education to the refugee children is one of UNRWA’s largest activities and accounts for half of its regular budget. The school enrollment for 2009/2010 is 206,180 children – 8,000 more than in 2008-2009.
Due to the continuous Israeli policy of not allowing any of the basic needs including building materials in to Gaza, UNRWA faced a great challenge with the increasing number of students on its schools. With no other alternative, the agency opened a school of cargo containers in Nuseirat Camp, called Nuseirat elementary boys School, on a piece if land of 3.800sq.m donated by the local community. This school includes 19 classrooms of the fourth, fifth and sixth grades only.
The classrooms are containers with a capacity of 36 students only; the wall surrounding the school is a blue plastic pavilion, and with the current regular power cut, the situation is unbearable for both the students and the teachers on this hot weather.
Mr. Hamdan Jaber El Hour, the School headmaster says “90% of the basic needs of the school are available like the books, classes, but the school still in bad need for fans or even air conditioners to alleviate the heat of the containers especially on this time of the year which considered the hottest days of the year.”
“Unlike other schools in Gaza with two shifts this school is a one shift which encourages the students and their parents to continue, besides it is an open school therefore, there is less noise heard from the other classes.”
“The only reason for this situation is the blockade, we can not have building materials to build the school on time, nonetheless such situation will affect the quality of the services provided for the refugees, but it will not stop us as UNRWA employees and teaching team from working hard to continue this project.” Mr. Al Hour comments.
When I asked Mr. Al Hour about the number of parents who came to transfer their children to other schools, he said “I admit that the school situation is not so encouraging, but we are at the beginning yet. Some parents came to transfer their children specially the excellent ones, because of the school condition, and this is a problem that will affect the school performance at the end of the year.”
Speaking about the equipments available for the school he said “we have a place for the science lab, the computer lab, and a library, but till this moment we did not receive any of the needed equipment.”
I walked through the school yard and met with Mr. Ahmed El Sharif, the Arabic language teacher, who commented and said “we are at the beginning of the school year, the weather is very hot inside the containers, and this will affect the student’s capacity to concentrate especially with fasting Ramadan.”
Ahmed Mizher, a student at the fifth grade said “I am happy at this school, but the container under the sun becomes so hot, and we are fasting and feel very hot inside it.”
While Shihab Abu A’reban, another student said “ I wish that the school administration will work to complete the school, the yard is mud, with the rain in winter it will be sticky and it will be difficult to walk without slipping, beside the classes are very hot now.”
Despite this difficult situation in the boys school, the students and the teacher’s resilience continues. This is a spark of hope that the blockade will never put out.
- Najwa Sheikh is a writer based in the Gaza Strip. She contributed this article to PalestineChroicle.com.