UNRWA schools provide a generous hand to overcome the tribulations of life in the beleaguered Gaza Strip, encouraging students to dream big despite the obstacles around them.
Each semester, UNRWA supplied free medical glasses to shortsighted students and ran periodic medical and dental examinations; they also provided vaccinations to all students. For many years, UNRWA provided students with healthy meals on a daily basis, handing out fruit, sandwiches, milk and homemade pastries that employed thousands of people in a project funded by Mercy USA. These meals helped many poor students, who had no food at home, to focus better; a few children wouldn’t eat these meals, but would hold on to them, taking them home to share with their starving families.
Last week, the US announced its decision to start defunding UNRWA, the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency. If defunded, an immediate catastrophe will surely follow.
UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinians through a combination of food, schools, medical and other services, means life to more than two thirds of Gaza’s two million residents — as it did for me. I grew up studying in UNRWA schools.
I can still clearly remember the happiness and excitement in my late father’s eyes on my first day of school, the same UNRWA school where he studied himself as a child. He put me in his old classroom, and even sat me down in the same old wooden bench were he sat 30 years before. I remember so clearly the dream in his eyes, that I’d be as successful in life as he was.
Even when he grew older, he always took me with him to visit his old primary school teachers to pay tribute for how well they raised him, a tradition of appreciation that I inherited from him.
For my father, this school was the school that made him an accomplished doctor, and later made me an engineer. Without it, he often told me, “I would have remained a barefoot refugee in a muddy camp flooded with sewage water,” dependent on barebones subsistence aid to cling to life.