300,000 UNRWA CHILDREN START SCHOOL IN CONFLICT-RAVAGED GAZA AND SYRIA
14 September 2014
Nearly 300,000 children went back to UNRWA schools at the start of the school year in Gaza and Syria today. “In Gaza, conflict has profoundly affected the traditional learning environment and delayed the academic year for almost three weeks,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl. "But after the traumatic 50 days of brutal conflict, of death, destruction and massive displacement, including to many of our schools, we are determined to give the children a sense of renewed hope and better prospects by opening the schools so soon again."
In Gaza, some 240,000 children went back to 252 UNRWA schools. Over 90 school buildings had been used as shelters for displaced people during the recent Gaza violence. UNRWA has employed over 200 counsellors to support children, parents and teachers as they transition back to school.
“UNRWA staff in Gaza have been working around the clock to prepare for the students’ return to school. This has been particularly challenging, because as of a few days ago, 29 UNRWA school buildings – every fifth school building – was still serving as a shelter,” said Krähenbühl. “The top priority now is making sure that after a period of psychosocial support, including the use of theatre for development techniques, our students can return to their regular curricula. There can be no more important priority right now than providing education and a sense of safety and normality for the children of Gaza and Syria. It is a matter of dignity.”
In Gaza this year, back-to-school will not be business-as-usual. UNRWA is rolling out an innovative three-phase approach and 7,800 UNRWA teachers have been trained to offer new methods of teaching. After an initial focus on psychosocial support and recreational activities, a transitional phase will focus on active and alternative learning, key skills and concepts. Only at the third stage will UNRWA schools return to the standard curriculum. The Agency will also continue to use new technology to offer lessons through UNRWA TV, its satellite channel.
Much of the emergency education response UNRWA is applying in Gaza has been developed during the three-and-a-half-year conflict in Syria, where some 50,000 students returned to school today. Following the damage or destruction of dozens of UNRWA schools, the Agency has adopted a range of innovative measures to ensure that the right to education is protected. This includes establishing schools in alternative facilities in safer areas, serving over 22,000 students; developing distance learning materials for students unable to access school; and deploying psychosocial counsellors to school premises.
UNRWA Director of Education, Caroline Pontefract said, “Education is crucial to all children in an emergency, and unfortunately Palestine refugees continue to be confronted with conflict and emergencies. Building on our long-standing experience and with the support of our established networks and partners, we are addressing the emergency education needs of Palestine refugees in Syria and Gaza in a holistic and innovative way. This will ensure the psychosocial and learning support necessary to transition our children back to normal schooling.”
In parallel with the start of the academic year in Syria, UNRWA is launching a ground-breaking education and advocacy programme. The #MyVoiceMySchool project connects conflict-affected students in UNRWA classrooms in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with students in the UK to discuss and explore how education can be improved and used to meet each student’s career aspirations. Each classroom will develop a student advocacy project that will contribute student voices to the discussion about improving education on an international level.
Speaking from an UNRWA school in Damascus that has been turned into a collective shelter, 15-year-old Ayat said, “My dream is to become an engineer to rebuild my neighbourhood and make the houses even better than before the conflict… I believe this beautiful day will come.” UNRWA is committed to helping make Ayat’s dream - and that of hundreds of thousands of children - a reality.
Listen to Ayat's story here.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 56 million.
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