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In one of the most overcrowded spots in the world, the Shati Refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is a home to tens of thousand of Palestinian refugees. Since 1948, Palestinian who were uprooted and kicked out of their towns and villages in what is known now as 的srael proper・ are still living under severe and punishing conditions. Till this day, Palestinians refugees wherever they are, call the events of 1948, the Nakba or the Catastrophe. Many of the surviving older generation have continued to hold the key to their old house, a powerful surviving symbol of their personal deep tragedy.
Under the current Palestinian Inttifadah, (uprising against occupation), life has become increasingly difficult. Unemployment runs high among the adult population as many of them used to work inside Israel for making a living. With its strict military blockade around the Gaza Strip, Israel has significantly created a major economic upheaval to thousands of Palestinian families who depended on their income from working in Israel. At the moment, unemployment rate runs as high as 70%, especially so among those who live inside the refugee camps. The population of the Gaza Strip is 1.25 million and the refugees make up 70% of the entire population.
No doubt, the worsening economic and social situation in refugee camps has generated deep resentment towards Israel. With no light at the end of a tunnel for a possible political outcome with the Sharon regime, ordinary Palestinian certainly expect the worsening of the situation in terms of Israel痴 official policy of collective punishment and state-sanctioned military violence. In an effort to face the mounting challenges, many local Palestinian NGOs in addition to official institutions try to ease the burden of life for the refugees. According to recent statistics, about 30% of Palestinian people depend upon the help from NGOs for daily living needs. Also, the traditionally strong family ties in Palestinian society have definitely played a major role in sustaining the survival of deprived families at present times of living under siege and economic embargo.
However, as the Palestinian people have grown accustomed to hardships, they have always tried to look beyond mere survival by keeping their eyes on hope and a brighter future. One essential way of letting the hope alive, from the start of their dispossession in 1948 till present, is Education. To the majority of Palestinians, even the poorest, Education is an uncompromising philosophy or a vision. Acquiring education has simply become the only way out and an instinct for a NATIONAL survival.
As the new academic year starts in this September, the majority of families in Shati Camp or at any other refugee camp have found themselves in dire need to cover the costs of sending, usually, several children for each family to schools and universities. Despite the touch conditions, families sacrifice so much for the sake of providing education for sons and daughters. With the new school year knocking on the door, the finical burden is becoming of a major worry for parents.
Mr. Marwan, 42-year-old father of eight children, used to work in Israel as a machinery technician at a factory making biscuits, located only 20 KM north of the Gaza Strip. His parents were displaced and uprooted from Ashdod in 1948, their home origin, about 30 Km south of Tel Aviv. Immediately after the outbreak of the Intifadah, uprising, two years ago, Mr. Marwan was denied a work permit by Israeli
authorities and turned unemployed. His eldest son is 21 years old university student named Saad and is attending the local Islamic University of Gaza where he is studying civil Engineering. Saad has already finished two years and going into the third one in few weeks time. Last year, Saad almost canceled his studies because of lack of funds to cover for his Education. ・I found myself choosing between asking my parents to pay for my school fees or providing food for the rest of the family.・Said the engineering student Saad. A bright student and very polite, Saad continued speaking with a gentle smile, trying to reveal an unshakable sense of dignity despite the poor surroundings,・ but my uncle, father痴 older brother, heard my plans of deferring my studies for one year and interfered. He did not accept my plans of delaying my studies and offered to help to pay my fees. My mother, at the time, was very distressed when she heard of my plans because she takes high pride in my academic achievements and I am the eldest in the family. You know, I am like setting and example for the rest of my brothers and sisters. That is crucial to their morale of vision of future.・SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">
This year, again, the family is facing the financial problems providing university fees not only for Saad alone but also for a second family member who just graduated from high school. It is Saad痴 sister, named Shaimaa. Her dream is to attend a university and study at the department of humanities.
Saad spoke about his sister痴 plans to complete university and said,・actually, we were discussing her plans for higher education last night. My father supported my sister and told her that he would do his best to provide for her education even if that, as father put it, 祖ost me selling my clothes樗.
As Saad was talking, one of his younger brothers, named Ahmad, walked in with a small tray, bringing Arabic coffee. The rest of the children were listening keenly to our conversation. After taking a sip from the small cup of coffee, Saad boasted with pride how all his brothers and sisters are top students at schools. Here, the fourth-grade Mustafa jumped in and said he achieved the First Rank ( Al Awal in Arabic ) in his school every year. One after one, they all talked with enthusiastic glow in their eyes, about high marks in schools.
At the end, Saad explained that some of his good relatives take care of their most urgent needs. Also, whenever he hears of a possible assistance or scholarship offered by some NGO, he does not hesitate to apply. ・ Somehow, we try to manage. Allah Karim (God is generous)・ Saad said smilingly.
In this afternoon of a very hot August summer, the narrow alleys and crowded streets of the refugee camps seemed amazingly full of life. . Many venders and shops were displaying schools uniforms and stationary items. How are people managing not only surviving but also living above the siege is an attribute to those ordinary individuals・resilience, hope and faith. Like Marwan痴 family, the majority of Palestinians are struggling through their day to day life but in the meanwhile never forgetting the dream of achieving a life full of dignity, freedom and independence; one day.
Reported by B. Samed,
Aug. 30thth., 2002
Gaza Strip, Palestine
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