This blog post is the seventh in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’. This post, If.
If you are born in Gaza in 2014, you will grow up with lots and lots and lots of friends. If you only want to mix with children your own age, don’t worry. You will have about 56,000 to choose from. But if you prefer to toddle about more widely, you still have options as 18% of the 1.8 million-strong Gaza population is under five years old.
The great thing is that you’re not going to miss or lose your friends quickly. If they’re not in Gaza city, they’ll be somewhere on the Gaza Strip which is only 30 miles long. And their parents are unlikely to be moving away any time soon. Most families number six or seven, so you’ll get to know their brothers and sisters too.
School can be tough, though. You get three and a half hours of school a day. It’s mainly learning by rote. Repeat this. Repeat that. Maths, Arabic, Geography, History. It’s good that every child in Gaza can learn to read and write, but there’s no time for anything else. No art, music, sport or anything like that.
You might be lucky and get a chance to go to Theatre Day Productions. It’s part of something called Tamasi. You can have great fun taking part in writing and even performing on the stage. Theatre helps you think for yourself and, if you have any bad stuff happening at home or at school, you can put that into what you are doing without getting into trouble.
When you’re older you can play volleyball or football after school. They’re both popular. But don’t play on the beach, especially near the refugee camps close to the sea like Deir El- Bala. Of the 1.8 million who live in Gaza, around 1.2 million of them live in these refugee camps. Maybe you’re in one of them. Maybe you’re in the 80% who live below something known as the poverty line. Anyway, there’s raw sewage that goes straight on to the beach and into the Mediterranean all along the Strip and the stench is overwhelming when you’re close to them.
When you leave school, you might get into the University of Palestine or the Islamic University. Both are in Gaza, where else? Then what? You could work for the government possibly, but people who work for them haven’t been paid since last July, so that’s not a great option. And apparently, if you work in Gaza for just one hour a week that means you are considered to be ‘employed’. So when they say that the unemployment rate is 38% and that 66% of young people under 30 are not working, it may not fill you with great hope, especially when your chances of leaving Gaza to seek other opportunities are slim.
If you can grow up and handle all of that. If you can survive. If you can keep your head when all the world beyond Gaza are losing theirs and blaming it on you. Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
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Yvette Gyles, Director