For close to 10 years, the people of Gaza have lived under a tight land, air and sea blockade that affects many aspects of their lives. Today, an entire generation of children in Gaza do not know life outside of the Gaza Strip; they have already lived through three armed conflicts, and many of them have suffered the loss of family members, friends and homes. UNRWA estimates that due to the impact of the blockade and recurrent conflicts, approximately 30 per cent of UNRWA students require structured psychosocial interventions.
Since 1971, the European Union has provided support to Palestine refugees through UNRWA, with a particular focus on reducing the impact of conflict, violence and poverty on children and youth. In 2016, the European Union renewed its commitment to strengthen the resilience of Palestine refugee youth in Gaza and, among other programmes and projects, did so through support to the ‘My Voice-My School’ (MVMS) project and the Summer Fun Weeks (SFWs).
Over the fall and winter last year, 25 Palestine refugee students in Gaza participating in MVMS embarked on a journey with their European peers to become advocates for education. The project, developed in collaboration with Digital Explorer and implemented for the first time in Gaza in 2016, empowers youth by giving them a voice and the opportunity to communicate across borders on issues that matter to them.
Breaking from the isolation caused by the blockade, students in Gaza connected with Dutch pupils in Amsterdam over a 12-week period and shared and debated their ideas on education in the context of their lives through virtual exchange. “These students, most of them have never been out of Gaza; they were 3 or 4 years old when the blockade started,” explains Rida Thabet, MVMS coordinator in Gaza. “It is the first time that they have first-hand contact with another culture. It deepens their respect of diversity, strengthens their self-confidence, and improves their communication skills.
During the summer of 2016 and as part of the Cash-for-Work programme, the European Union also funded the short-term and longer-term work contracts of Palestine refugees involved in the implementation of the Summer Fun Weeks, which allowed 165,000 refugee children to find respite from the hardship in Gaza. Running over a three-week period and in 120 locations across the Gaza Strip, the SFWs provided Palestine refugee children with the ability to enjoy much-needed recreational and educational activities.
From football to handicrafts to drawing, children had the chance to play, learn and express themselves in an effort to promote the social values of leadership, respect, cooperation and human rights. The SFWs offered a welcome opportunity to alleviate the stress and pressures the students face, helping to mitigate the impact of consecutive conflicts on the life and development of refugee children.