World Refugee Day: the Hidden Truth of Refugees

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Balata Camp is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank.
The area is 0.25 km2.
The population registered by the UNRWA are 26,500 but the real number in the camp are 28,000.
The unemployment rate in Balata camp is more than 25%.
There are 4 schools in 3 buildings with 6500 students.
Health-care facilities: 1 UNRWA clinic and 2 other health-care centers.
The poverty rate in Balata camp is more than 45%.
More than 40% of the people suffer from chronic diseases (Diabetic, pressure and nerves and respiratory diseases) because of the overcrowded population.

Major problems in Balata:
• High unemployment
• Bad water and sewage network
• High population density
• Overcrowded schools

Video edition: Gonzalo Boronat Badía (Butidog Media)
Realization: Ruth Marjalizo
Translation: Mohammed Saleh

Drawing a Smile

As you might know, Palestine is one of several countries with many refugees around the world, who struggle every day to return to the land that was taken from them 65 years ago. They yearn to return to their place of heritage and erase the refugee label from their lives. Unfortunately, seeing how things have developed over the years, this is a dream that will not come true.

Palestine, Educar para Vivir, 2013

According to Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who:

“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Currently, there are 5 million Palestinian refugees around the world, with 1.4 million living in 58 refugee camps distributed throughout Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and West Bank. 17.1% of them live in refugee camps in West Bank and 41.7% of those are children under the age of 15.

Palestina, Educar para Vivir, EpV

In Palestine there are 19 official refugee camps where 727,471 refugees live, with a total of 52,633 pupils. In the city of Nablus, where our colleague Ruth is, there are 3 large refugee camps, where unfortunately many children are not only refugees, but also orphans, who lost their parents as a result of the intifada or incarceration. Although it is known that Arab families are large, meaning that children are never totally abandoned, it is also true that the affection and love of a parent cannot be replaced. The male figure is the nucleus of the Arab family and a very important cultural pillar, whose absence is noticeable.

Along with a voluntary association created by teachers and students of the An-Najah National University, where our colleague Ruth works as a volunteer teacher, she devotes her time to know the situation of refugee children and orphans. She believes that:

“In a society where children attend schools segregated by sex and where they are forbidden to have contact with each other until they get to college (which is the first place where they begin to have contact with the opposite sex in the classroom), we have created an association with which we intend to change this habit so typical of most Arab countries. However, this is not the only purpose for which we work and struggle. 

What we want is for them to feel comfortable with each other even though they do not know each other, being from different camps. We want them to completely forget the problems that are involved because of the circumstances of the country. We hope they have a good time, have fun and our motto is “let’s draw a smile”. We usually start doing that by having them introduce themselves by singing in a circle. After that, we have breakfast together, and then we start with the games. 

 They are the new generation that will change the course of Palestine, and we want them to grow up happy without fear or hatred.  They need to learn to forgive, forget, love and respect. This is a challenging psycho-socio-educational project; it is not easy to grow up surrounded by soldiers, guns and settlers. “

Ruth Marjalizo, Educar para vivir 2013

The Question of Palestine

In many parts of the world, where apart from food, water, medicine or homes, rights are also scarce, including education. This is not only limited to the right to go to school or pursue university studying and the formation of each individual’s professional potential, gaining the opportunity to live a better life, but also the opportunity to receive a secular education where there is lifestyle individuality, where each person is able to make their own decisions, and where neither government nor society control civil life. A clear example is Palestine, located in the Middle East.

In Palestine, there is a team member from Education for Life. Our colleague Ruth works as a volunteer teacher at An-Najah National University located in the city of Nablus, in the northern West Bank. She is teaching the Spanish language to Palestinian university students of varying academic background (from linguists to engineers); in which all students have access and the chance to learn Spanish. But apart from that, her and her colleagues share with students other customs or ways of life that exist in other parts of the globe. They transmit other perspectives from different cultures, and they inform them of places where perhaps there are more job opportunities than they can find at their country.

Ruth Marjalizo, Palestina, Educar para Vivir

Ruth Marjalizo with a children from Palestine

“My work ideology is based on mutual respect, respect for others and respect for the doctrines. We are not putting our ideas before those of them neither trying to convince anyone of the opposite of what they think or feel, just we want to share our knowledge and releasing of the wide range of possibilities that exist outside of the land of each population, where their eyes do not reach to see and their ears do not reach to hear. We opted for a secular education, where every person is free to think whatever they want and to choose what they see fit for their future. Far from attempt against religion, secularism in public education provides a framework of coexistence and respect between different religious and belief systems, without imposing any binding way. “

Palestine is a territory quite complicated in terms of where education is concerned. As in many other countries, religion is the most important pillar of society, which controls education and culture. Although this does not mean that the education system is religious, everything is governed and controlled by religion.

This where religion and culture are mixed into a single weapon, creating a society that disenfranchises many people and putting obstacles onto others. This is a great challenge, considering that teaching in a society governed entirely by religion is a very difficult job. It is a very religious country and what makes this unique is how Palestinians are still quite skeptical about the future that awaits them.

Another important role that Education for Life has in Palestine is the help and cooperation in voluntary actions, such as the olive harvest (which takes place now until the end of November). We also want to contact refugee camps both locally and throughout the West Bank, to examine their daily lives, the possibilities that they have and they do not, etc. We want to show the world what they do not know, neither see.

Our goal is to return to Palestine as the country that was before the occupation and war, a country with a more open-minded and more opportunities for growth, which it now has. Where people have the opportunity and the right to a quality education and teachers are merely the means to knowledge and not the only real source of information and wisdom, where youth learn by them-selves in seeking and investigating knowledge. Not a passive society that receives information, and only regurgitate it. They are the future and it is to them that we want to outreach.