Living in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, most young people in the Gaza Strip grow up in urban centers with little knowledge of their agricultural heritage. With youth unemployment levels among the highest in the world, many young Gazans feel unable to give something back to the community.
A pioneering youth project by UNRWA aims to change that. This summer, more than 300 young women took part in a volunteer clean-up effort across 75 farms throughout the coastal enclave. The participants lent a helping hand to struggling local farmers, and learned something about the environmental challenges facing Gaza.
There are numerous problems facing farmers in Gaza, primary among them a stagnant economy, a rapidly growing population, lack of access to agricultural land and a severe water shortage. A report by UNRWA and other UN agencies earlier this year warned that Gaza’s water and sanitation problems would render the coastal strip “unliveable” by the year 2020.
“It’s great to see youth volunteering”
Raja’a, a 51-year-old farmer from the southern area of Khan Younis, welcomed a group of young volunteers for the day. With the poor economic conditions in Gaza, Raja’a can’t afford to hire any workers, making it increasingly difficult to sustain his farm. “These volunteers have made a significant difference for me,” he says, “removing pests during the important pre-harvest period.”
Farmer Jabbara, 46, is from the area north of Khan Younis. “This campaign is a much-welcomed new initiative. It’s great to see youth coming to volunteer at my farm – especially women!”
The volunteer programme was organised by Gaza’s Union of Agricultural Work Committees and UNRWA’s gender initiative. As well as encouraging greater participation in society by young people, the activities also aimed to highlight women’s important contribution to agriculture in the area.
“I felt valued”
In a closing ceremony held at a farm in southern Gaza, 23 year-old volunteer Fadia praised the project. “It made me feel more connected with my community, and I felt valued and appreciated.
“Actually, the farmers were less surprised that we could work on farms than we volunteers were ourselves!”
Fellow volunteer Najla’a, 24, said she was glad to help the local farmers improve the quality of their crops. Normally, she said, “they don’t get much help.”
“And by participating, I’ve learnt many things about farming,” she added. “Like the problems with snail and slug infestations, and irrigation systems.
“It was a great opportunity.”