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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sheikha Moza’s EAA kicks into action as Israeli raids bring Palestinian education to grinding halt

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Sheikha Moza and her foundation, Education Above All, have vowed to support and proceed with educational projects in Palestine amid continued Israeli attacks. 

Sheikha Mozza bint Nasser took to social media to shed light on the obstacles facing Palestinian children that have been forced out of schools due to ongoing Israeli bombardments on the besieged Gaza Strip.

“The cries of Palestine’s children echo unheard as classmates attend their funerals. They deserve a childhood and livelihood,” Sheikha Moza wrote in a post on Instagram on Tuesday.

As of May 19, at least 219 Palestinians including 63 children have been killed in Gaza, where indiscriminate Israeli air raids have continued for a second week running.

In that time, more than 460 homes have been completely destroyed while over 1,000 others have faced damaged, significantly affecting more than 11,000 citizens across the strip, many of whom were forced to seek refuge aat UNRWA schools, Education Above All (EAA) told Doha News. 

The Qatar-based foundation, which has a team of networks on the ground in Palestine, has continued to engage with school children despite the bombardment.

“We are witnessing and establishing facts in real time, giving children and youth the chance to share their voice through various platforms through live stream, sharing and posting their words and stories and ensuring that we support them to amplify their voices to the world,” EAA said in a statement to Doha News on Thursday.

One such case is Nadin Abdellatif, a 10-year-old Palestinian whose family was made homeless due to the bombing. Like thousands of others, she now lives in a UNRWA school that has essentially turned into a refugee camp for those fleeing Israeli raids.

“I don’t like the sound of explosion, I hear them every day and every night. We live in total ruins. No one is safe. Look at these torn school books. These children probably had dreams to become doctors – now they are gone. Everything is gone,” the young girl says, standing atop a destroyed building.

“I want to be a doctor to help my people but how will this happen if education has come to a halt? Schools are closed, how should I study?

“We have the right to education, right? Where is our right?,” she questions.

EAA said it is in touch with its scholarship students, monitoring the situation of all the education facilities in Gaza, with particular focus on those that were included in its post-2014 war projects, all of which funded by Qatar Fund for Development.

Read also: Biden ‘can no longer’ publicly support Israel as ceasefire calls intensify: Axios

In Gaza, Deputy Director of the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights Samir Zaqout said the situation in the besieged enclave is dire, with schools across the strip affected and the academic year facing an unwelcome disruption for all Palestinians.

“People are scared to go out or leave their refuge and children are obviously not allowed to go to schools or wander in the streets,” Zaqout told Doha News.

So far, more than 50 education facilities have faced some level of damage, including at least two main schools – Palestine’s first ‘Child-Friendly’ Jamal Abd Nasser school and the Catholic Rosary Sisters Co-Ed School. Similarly, the Islamic University of Gaza, which was previously reconstructed by the Qatari organisation, has also been affected this time round.

“This does not take into account the wear and tear that will inevitably occur as a result of UNRWA schools sheltering families (which was a major cause of our post-2014 intervention with UNRWA – funded by QFFD),” EAA added. 

A disrupted academic year

EAA figures show some 591,685 (51% girls) school age children were affected in Gaza as of May 16th, including 286,743 who attend UNRWA schools.

The war also impacts some 21,300 education staff.

“We all know that education worldwide has been heavily affected by the Covid-19 crisis; in the Gaza Strip schools have been closed since 8 April and education has been provided through distance learning approaches,” EAA said.

However, while families are overwhelmed by death, destruction and displacement, added difficulties includes a lack of access to electricity and the internet, posing a serious obstacle to distance learning as an option.

“Now, according to the UNICEF Education Cluster, it is assumed that education will not be provided at all, neither face to face nor through distance learning,” EAA added.

While the latest flare-up is the worst to strike Gaza in years, it is not the first and Palestinian school children have always faced obstacles in their right to education.

Since 2009, EAA’s Al Fakhoora programme has worked with partners in Gaza to protect this right with hopes to assist upcoming generations. 

“We have long standing strategic partnerships with UN agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF and UNRWA. Over the last 10 years we have gained a strong network across the community which includes our scholarship beneficiaries who are either students or alumni, along with various community organisations,” EAA said.

Its flagship scholarship programme in Gaza provides opportunities for over 900 youth to access higher education, equipping and enabling them with skills to work from the inside to contribute to the continual post-conflict reconstruction cycle.

After the 51-day war in 2014, with the support of Qatar Fund for Development and in partnership with UNDP, UNICEF and UNRWA, Al Fakhoora designed and implemented several multi-faceted programmes as a response to the immense damage to the heavily targeted education sector, a spokesperson told Doha News. 

“These projects involved reconstructing and rehabilitating 50 educational institutions (including government and private schools, kindergartens, training centres and universities), as well as refurbishing 43 UNRWA schools that were used as shelters during the war,” EAA said.

“Al Fakhoora saw the aftermath of the 2014 war as an opportunity to “build back better,” and took this chance to incorporated ‘Child-Friendly’ school principles in many of the schools, as well as provisions for future incursions, such as the one we are facing now.”

Mental health

“The psychosocial capacity building is an important component of providing full educational opportunities to Palestinians in Gaza. According to the rapid needs assessment conducted after the 2014 war through the Child Protection Working Group led by UNICEF, 100% of respondents confirmed that there had been changes in the children’s behaviour as a result of the psychological distress of conflict,” EAA noted.

This could be in the form of bedwetting, unusual incidences of crying and screaming, and displays of aggression, particularly among boys.

Providing psychological services to children in schools is particularly important in war-hit areas such as Palestine. 

“As part of the post-2014 interventions, Al Fakhoora partnered with UNICEF to create psychosocial rehabilitation programmes for students, and worked in conjunction with the MOEHE to train and support over 11,000 teacher and counsellors to better support their students.

“We also worked to integrate child protection and psychosocial modules at the university level, as well as strengthening the capacity of the Child Protection Networks at a government level. to the world,” it continued. 


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