Damascus, February 2008
Rasha Dessouki, dressed in a white lab coat, is transferring water from a pipette to a beaker for a class at the Damascus Training Centre. "My mother has been encouraging me to study pharmacy since I was a little girl," states this twenty-year-old. "I’ve always wanted to study how to give medicine to people, but I knew that the program at the Damascus Training Centre was very competitive, so I didn't think I could get in."
Thanks to the European Commission funded Vocational Education and Employment project, which doubled the number of spots available for aspiring pharmacists at the Centre, Rasha obtained a place on the two-year programme. After she graduates she hopes to open her own pharmacy near her home in Sbeineh camp.
A visit to a classroom down the hallway finds a workshop space where Ghassan Hindi is cutting out a pattern for a pair of trousers on white tissue paper. Ghassan, 17, is taking part in the newly-expanded fashion design course. Although Paris may trump Damascus in its number of catwalks, nearly 100 per cent of the students on the fashion design course find employment once they graduate. This aspiring young fashion designer hopes to travel to England following graduation to strike it big.
Rasha and Ghassan are not the only two to benefit from the Vocational Education and Employment project. Since 2006, the European Commission and UNRWA have collaborated to improve the employability of Palestine refugees living in camps in Syria in a €2.5 million initiative.
Palestine refugees in Syria face higher rates of unemployment as camp life provides them with fewer economic opportunities and more limited mobility. In addition to these structural challenges, the ability of Palestine refugees to find work in Syria is affected by limited access to quality vocational training and employment services as well as a lack of support in terms of business development.
The Vocational Education and Employment project addresses these issues and enhances the employability of Palestine refugees in Syria by equipping them with technical skills and assisting them in finding jobs.
Further plans for 2008 include new courses in graphic design and mechatronics, on-going training courses, enhanced employment support in camps and the introduction of business development services in Aleppo to assist fledgling entrepreneurs.
The Damascus Training Centre is one of nine vocational training centres run by UNRWA in its field of its operations. It is attended by more than 1,000 Palestine refugees, over 80 per cent of whom find employment upon graduation.
There is no doubt that these sustainable efforts will give more Palestine refugee youth like Rasha and Ghassan opportunities to fulfill their career dreams and aspirations.
By Lachlyn Soper