25/08/2015

Gaza: A Year After The War, Problems Remain




Gaza strike shuts first day of school for more than 200,000

AFP | AFP – Mon, Aug 24, 2015



A strike by teachers and personnel in Gaza kept more than 200,000 children from returning to school for the new term Monday, as the UN agency that employs them struggles financially.
Several thousand teachers, assistants and administrative personnel protested in front of the headquarters of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

  • A Palestinian girl makes her way though the rubble of destroyed buildings as she heads home from school on March 11, 2015 in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza
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    AFP/AFP/File - A Palestinian girl makes her way though the rubble of destroyed buildings as she heads home from school on March 11, 2015 in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza

The union for UNRWA staff in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory hit hard by three wars in six years, an Israeli blockade and economic crisis, called for the protest with some employees at risk of losing jobs because of a lack of financing.
Out of a population of 1.8 million in Gaza, some 1.26 million are refugees, according to UN figures. UNRWA oversees education for most children -- some 225,000 in 245 schools.
Dozens of schools were damaged and affected by last summer's war between Palestinian militants and Israel.
UNRWA, mainly financed by state members of the United Nations, has struggled with money shortages for years.
The agency had raised the possibility of delaying the start of the new school term and laying off some staff for a year due to a lack of contributions from international donors.
New financial support allowed UNRWA to freeze those plans, but its employees are demanding that they be dropped entirely.
In the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory, children returned to school amid tributes to the 18-month-old boy killed last month along with his father when their home was firebombed by suspected Jewish extremists.
The school in Duma, the Palestinian village in the West Bank where the incident occurred, was renamed after the toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsha. The school year in the village was symbolically reopened by prime minister Rami Hamdallah.
The boy's mother, Riham, taught at a school in a neighbouring village. She remains in hospital with severe burns along with her other son, who is four.
"The students are asking for any news about their teacher," Ahlam al-Masri, the principal of her school, told AFP.
"This morning we all prayed for her recovery and for the souls of her son and her husband."

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Classrooms empty in Gaza as strike by UNRWA staff bites

Thousands of teachers and other educational staff from UN agency for Palestinian refugees protest over "service cuts".


24 Aug 2015 21:09 GMT

Source: Agencies

Several thousand teachers, assistants and administrative personnel protested in front of the headquarters of UNRWA [AP]

Thousands of educational staff employed with UNRWA have taken to the streets of Gaza City on the first day of the school year, to strike over what they said was dwindling resources being provided by the United Nations agency which looks after Palestinian refugees.
The employees, who were joined by supporters on Monday, said they were protesting against a decision made last month by UNRWA to stop paying teachers for their annual leave days due to the financial hardship the agency is facing. 
The protesters also demonstrated against UNRWA's decision to raise the number of students in each classroom to 50 per teacher, which they say will harm the quality of teaching and learning and leave many teachers unemployed.
However, Sami Mshasha, an UNRWA spokesperson in Jerusalem, said the demands of the protesters had already been met.
Mshasha said that the agency sent letters to 30,000 employees on Sunday, cancelling the unpaid leave proposal.
He also said that the possibility of raising the number of students to 50 was considered by UNRWA due to financial trouble, but added that eventually the number of students in each class will not exceed 41 students.
Emergency programmes threatened
Despite its financial hardships, UNRWA opened its 245 schools in Gaza as scheduled on Monday but many classrooms remained empty in light of the protests.
The agency announced earlier in August that it only had funding until the end of this month, when the school year was due to start in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
It raised the possibility of laying off some of its staff for a year due to a lack of contributions from international donors.
New financial support allowed UNRWA to freeze those plans, but its employees were demanding that they be dropped entirely.
UNRWA, which began its operations in 1950, provides assistance and protection for about five million registered Palestine refugees in besieged Gaza, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, as well as in Lebanon and Syria.
The agency had said it required $100m to begin the 2015-2016 academic year in about 700 UN-run schools for half-a-million students across the Middle East.
More than a $1bn had been pledged by governments by the end of 2014, and UNRWA has urged donors, many of whom have still not fulfilled their commitments, to act immediately.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called on all donors to urgently ensure adequate and sustainable financing for vital services were made available as soon as possible.
The agency had also said it only had enough money to maintain its services to protect public health - including immunisations for children, primary healthcare, sanitation and some emergency programmes - through to the end of 2015.

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