In Amman on 22 April, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) hosted Laura Quintana, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Cisco Systems, Inc., for her first meeting with the Agency. Along with other Cisco officials, she had come to discuss increasing the successful cooperation between Cisco and UNRWA in the fields of education and health.
UNRWA vocational and technical training centres (VTTCs) throughout the five fields began offering Cisco systems-training courses in 2001. Although the training has been suspended in Damascus due to the conflict in Syria, a total of approximately 4,600 students have graduated from the courses. Ms. Quintana presented UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Margot Ellis with an award recognizing UNRWA achievements in teaching Cisco systems through its VTTCs.
Ms. Quintana was impressed by the high percentage of female graduates in UNRWA centres, which currently stands at 35 per cent, exceeding the participation of women in the US (14 per cent), Europe (10 per cent) and globally (20 per cent). Combined with career counselling for students in grades eight through ten, as well as collaboration with UN Women in recruiting female students, the Cisco training has led to an employment rate for UNRWA graduates of 96.5 per cent in Jordan and 80 per cent in Gaza. Ms. Ellis noted that these successes reflected that there were no cultural impediments keeping women in the region from joining the IT-sector workforce.
UNRWA and Cisco discussed methods to increase cooperation and offer greater resources to Palestine refugees, for example to increase the employment rate for female graduates. Ms. Quintana suggested collaborating on a pilot of the Passport 21 programme, which focuses on entrepreneurial skills that complement IT training, and an 'Aspire Game' to develop ethics and corporate social responsibility in IT. After UNRWA Director of Health Dr. Akihiro Seita described the Agency's health programme, including the recently developed E-health system, Ms. Quintana described other innovative tools that can increase collaboration not just in education but also in health care.
UNRWA has served the Palestine refugee community for more than six decades. Throughout that time, the Agency has been committed to improving, developing and innovating in its programmes to provide them with the tools, skills, knowledge and opportunities that they need. Partnerships with organizations like Cisco have been a vital element in preparing Palestine refugees for the future.
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$ 68 million.
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