BACK TO SCHOOL AT UNRWA: EDUCATION TOUCHED BY CONFLICT
02 September 2014
As children in many parts of the world start their new school year, half a million Palestine refugee children should be returning to over 650 UNRWA schools in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Syria – but many cannot.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said, "Palestine refugee children in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are all touched by conflict and dispossession. In Gaza, while the 26 August ceasefire has brought welcome relief to children who have just endured weeks of tremendous violence, none of the 241,000 UNRWA students will return to school on time. It will take time for them to experience anything close to a normal school routine and yet their eventual return to a familiar classroom is a powerful message of hope."
Tens of thousands of children in Gaza remain displaced after the 50-day conflict. Many thousands will remain sheltering in UNRWA schools for months to come, because their homes have been destroyed. Other vacant schools must be cleared of unexploded ordnance or repaired after damage from shelling.
In Syria, only 42 of the 118 UNRWA schools are operational. Some of these schools are now operating three shifts, while the Agency is also running classes out of 36 alternative facilities. For children with access to education, the trauma of losing homes and classmates affects their ability to learn. While many of the most impoverished have dropped out of school as their families cut back on expenses to survive.
In addition to the children living through conflict within Syria, tens of thousands of Palestine refugees have been displaced from Syria to neighbouring countries – primarily Lebanon and Jordan, Here, students enrolled in new schools often have trouble fitting in with their new peers and adapting to new curriculum.
In the West Bank, the movement restrictions and forced displacement of some Bedouin and farming communities are affecting access to education for the children of those communities.
UNRWA Director of Education Dr Caroline Pontefract said, “UNRWA is committed to doing everything it can to help children affected by conflict access their right to education. This has included setting up temporary teaching points to reach displaced children in Syria, and implementing an emergency education plan in Gaza, which will incorporate psychosocial interventions, the use of new technology, UNRWA satellite TV education programmes and self-learning material for all children.”
Other initiatives to improve the learning environment for Palestine refugees affected by the conflict in Syria include the ‘My Voice – My School’ project, which will use technology to connect classrooms in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with classrooms in the UK. The online video conversations, supported by British educational social enterprise, Digital Explorer, and Skype’s global platform, will allow students to advocate for their own education and future and share ideas about what makes quality education.
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$ 70.5 million.
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