Hasan Salem – A Life in UNRWA

19 July 2017
(Left to Right) Rogers Davis, Director of UNRWA Operations in Jordan, Hasan Salem, a former UNRWA Engineer who retired in May, and Ahmad Dabash, Chief of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme in Jordan. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Viola Bruttomesso

“The Elementary Boys School was so overcrowded that our first grade [class] was moved to the Girls School,” says 62-year-old Hasan Salem as he remembers his childhood as a student in the Agency’s Amman New Camp School.

Hasan’s family fled from Palestine to Jordan in 1948. They first moved to Salt, where he was born in 1955. The family then relocated to Amman because his father could not find a job in Salt. Recounting his upbringing, Hasan notes, “I grew up in a very poor area in the northern part of the city [Amman]. At that time, the area didn’t even have a name; now it is called Umtenah.”

Hasan completed his education at Hussein College, where he obtained his tawjihi (national exam certificate) in 1974. One year later, he applied through the Bulgarian Embassy to the Higher Institute of Civil Engineering in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he went to pursue his higher education.

“Beginning in a new country was not easy at all. No one spoke English, including me!” he says, laughing. “I took a one-year course in the Bulgarian language and then I started to attend the university. Five years later, I became a civil engineer.”

Following his graduation, Hasan initially worked for the Jordanian government and then for a private company in Saudi Arabia. In January 1984, over a decade after completing his education in UNRWA schools, Hasan returned to UNRWA, first as an UNRWA Office Engineer and then as a Planning and Maintenance Engineer. Hasan’s work in those positions laid many of the foundations for the Agency’s current camp infrastructure. “In those years, we undertook a lot of projects in collaboration with the Department for Palestinian Affairs (DPA). We fixed the streets in most of the camps, such as Baqa’a camp, where I remember there were just muddy roads, and Jerash camp, where it was difficult even to enter in the camp.” He adds, “We built the camps’ main roads and sidewalks. Furthermore, we provided all of the camps with sewage systems, replacing the old service-draining system and ending the use of percolation pits.”

In the early 1990s, Hasan joined the Environmental Health Division as a Field Sanitary Engineer, where he worked until he retired. His work responsibilities covered a broad range of water and sanitation issues, as well as camp development projects, helping to improve the water quality, cleanliness and health conditions of the camps where he worked.

Hasan reflects on the transformations that his department underwent in the decades between the original establishment of the camps and when he joined the team in the early 1990s: “In the beginning, labourers and foremen, who are in charge of the Environmental Health Service in the camps, were only equipped with wheelbarrows.” Hasan notes that handcarts were purchased to replace the inefficient wheelbarrows but that “the substantial change happened in the early ’90s, when we brought the hygienic compactors to bring the garbage to the municipal garbage dumps.”

Wishing to acknowledge the dedication that Hasan Salem has demonstrated over the years while working for UNRWA and for Palestine refugees, Roger Davies, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Jordan, commented: “Hasan’s remarkable efforts and dedications have helped make the work of the camp improvement programme what it is today. It has resulted in substantial improvements of the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestine refugees located in the Hashemite Kingdom of the Jordan.”

After working for the UNRWA Jordan Field Office for 33 years, Hasan Salem retired in May 2017. Looking back at his remarkable experience with UNRWA, Hasan says, “As a Palestinian, working for UNRWA gave me the opportunity to serve my people, doing my part in improving their living conditions. Plus, during these years I also had the chance to work with many people from all over the world.”