‘Qizan Abu Rashwan’ is almost entirely forgotten. This agricultural area is located between the Khan Younes and Rafah municipalities in the Southern Gaza Strip. The area is not only impoverished and neglected because of the protracted Israeli siege on Gaza, but also because neither adjacent municipalities recognize it as part of their cities.
There are 14,000 people residing in Qizan Abu Rashwan, mostly living in a state of destitution, lacking the most basic services and, needless to say, human rights as well.
When The Palestine Chronicle was contacted by a group of young volunteers from the town informing us of their anti-illiteracy campaign, we rushed to the area, to learn more about their work, but also about the region itself, which seems to have been dropped out of the Gaza map altogether.
Ahmad al-Laham, a young resident from Qizan Abu Rashwan, greeted us outside the center. He described the living situation in his unrecognized town as that of Gaza immediately following the Nakba, the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine by Israeli militias in 1948. To make his point, he drew many parallels: the makeshift housing, lack of sewage systems, rampant unemployment, and much more.
Al-Laham, along with relatives and friends, held a meeting, sometime in early 2014, where they all agreed that something “ought to be done”.
“Because of the overcrowded neighborhoods, the poverty and collective depression felt by the people here, we decided to take our first step, and that is the creation of a youth center, with the sole purpose of serving the residents and, using our own energies, providing the most basic services that give people a sense of dignity,” al-Laham told The Palestine Chronicle.
Al-Laham, who is the head of the board of directors of the Youth Stars Center, described the youth initiative as a “ray of hope”. Not only did these young Gazans manage to answer some immediate needs in their community – fighting illiteracy, providing urgent food and supplies to the poorest in the community, and so on – they also serve as a platform for a communal conversation.
“It was like a ray of hope for some people, an opportunity to help for others,” al-Laham told us. “The Youth Stars Center was launched in 2014 entirely as a youth initiative. Almost immediately, dozens of volunteers flocked to our office offering their services, time and expertise to help out the most marginalized within our community.”
The center quickly officiated its presence, receiving a permit from the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Gaza. Consequently, the center’s activities became more diverse, extending from providing basic education to young and old, to providing supplies and food to the poor and needy.
The center went even further. Using their humble means, the volunteers became involved in repairing some of the town’s ailing houses, and there are many. At times, the simple act of restoring holes in a ceiling or covering unfinished walls with metal sheeting, for some families, makes the difference between life and death.
The core activity of the center, however, remains focused on fighting illiteracy, as Qizan Abu Rashwan has only two poorly-equipped schools: an elementary school for boys and girls, and a middle school for girls only, the latter being established in 2020. The closest school outside the town is miles away. Without a bus or any other form of reliable transportation, many families opt to keep their children close-by, helping their parents with the arduous work at their small farms.
This is precisely why the center remains focused on education, running two literacy workshops, with the capacity to host 65 students, between the ages of 15 and 60.
Ghada Dabor heads the ‘women unit’ in the center. She told The Palestine Chronicle that fighting illiteracy is a top priority. “Our next workshop will be exclusively dedicated to educating mothers and the elderly on how to read and write. Women particularly, whose role is absolutely essential in Palestinian society, must be given access to basic education, so that they can fully satisfy their crucial mission in life, especially during these difficult times,” Dabor told us.
Another youth, Ahmad al-Agha, said that, currently, the center has 40 volunteers, all university graduates, united by a single goal of empowering their marginalized community. Once again, Al-Agha reiterated the centrality of women to their projects.
“We call on all people of virtue, especially those who are already involved with charitable organizations, to extend a helping hand, whether financially or morally, to the Youth Stars Center, to help us end this marginalization and restore the dignity and humanity of the people of Qizan Abu Rashwan,” Al-Agha said.
As our team toured the center, familiarized itself with its various activities, and spent a day in Qizan Abu Rashwan, we were told by those who we spoke to, that “All we want is a better life and a more promising future for our children.”
To learn more about the Youth Stars Center, please click here or contact the center at: firstname.lastname@example.org
00972 567 780607
– Abdallah Aljamal is a Gaza-based journalist. He is a correspondent for The Palestine Chronicle in the Gaza Strip.