Vocational programs, including entrepreneurship training, spur refugee independence
January 12, 2020
Life in a Palestinian refugee camp is a combination of desperate conditions and also a hopeful disposition by many of the refugees who live there.
Conditions in the camp reflect a high unemployment rate, particularly among youth. In the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, the unemployment rate reaches over 50%. Most young people, particularly women, do not find the opportunity to work. Likewise, in Jordan and Lebanon, unemployment among youth in the refugee camps there reaches nearly 40%, making life in these camps quite difficult for young people.
Confinement to life in a refugee camp keeps its inhabitants from full participation in the wider society. The refugee “stigma” rubs on one as a man or woman dares to search for better prospects outside the camp.
Living conditions provide the minimum that would keep the refugee’s dignity. Refugee homes are very small, with up to 10 or more people crowded in a space ideally suitable for only one person, while more affluent families live outside the camp.
Hygiene and dietary restrictions add to an environment of stress for mothers and the camp community with open sewers in the alleys of the camp where children play.
The United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established in 1949 by the U.N. General Assembly to support the needs of Palestinian refugees, following the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The war led to the establishment of Israel as an independent state and saw the dispersion of more than three-quarters of a million Palestinians as refugees to neighboring areas and countries, including the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA continues to support the education, health and social and economic needs of the refugees in spite of the complete withdrawal of U.S. funding in 2018 from the agency.
Life must go on. The Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches, a long-time partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has been in the field of refugee help since its establishment in the early 1950s. It operates today in the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank with a branch in Nazareth that responds to the needs of the Arab community in Israel.
Through its vocational programs in the Gaza Strip, health clinics in Jordan and Gaza, educational and community programs in Lebanon and the West Bank, and with interfaith and intergroup programs targeting educators and youth in Galilee, the department seeks to offer hope with dignity to thousands of beneficiaries, especially those living in refugee camps.
Some of the success stories in refugee camps reflect the determination of generations to rise above the changing circumstances of life in the camp. Of particular interest, the Palestinian and Syrian refugee women in Jordan (many Syrian refugees end up living in Palestinian refugee camps in both Jordan and Lebanon), after completing the “Start Your Own Business” course, did indeed succeed in initiating their own business.
Fatima Ni’meh, a mother of five, started an affordable children’s blanket- and quilt-making business. Her creations are sought after by refugees and others. Graduates of vocational training programs in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, including carpenters, blacksmiths, electricians and air-conditioning specialists, are quickly absorbed in the limited employment market in the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of refugee women in the Gaza Strip and Jordan receive medical care at our primary health clinics, and extra medical attention as they go through the process of giving birth. Because of iron deficiency and anemia among the refugee children in the Gaza Strip, a special program tracks hundreds of children as they are brought up to the expected norms.
The success of the many Palestinian refugees and their families overcoming the difficult conditions of life in a refugee camp is encouraging. In the end, however, there remains a need to reach a political solution between Palestinians and Israelis to settle — once and for all — the refugee problem that has been ongoing for more than 70 years. Resolving this problem, as well as the broader political conflict, requires wise leadership that would insist on justice and respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees as a means to ensure eventual reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Director of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, January 12, 2020, the Baptism of the Lord (Year A)
Today’s Focus: Palestinian Refugee Camp
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
God of all generations, open us to your call to love you and our neighbor no matter what our age, no matter what our talent, no matter what else we may have to do. May those who serve and those who are served feel like partners in your church, which hopes for the shelter, nuture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. Amen.