Stories of Learning in Forced Displacement in a Camp in Rafah

War on Gaza
Around 90 per cent of all school buildings in the Gaza Strip have turned into shelters for the internally displaced or have sustained more and less severe damage. Gaza’s 600,000 children, roughly half of the displaced population – who fled to Rafah, have hardly had safe space to learn since 7 October. 

According to the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF), eight out of 10 schools in the Gaza Strip are damaged or destroyed, while the risk of psychological damage on the nearly 1.2 million children constantly reaches new heights day after day. The possibility of bombing remains imminent in Rafah, the place where Gazan families have sought refuge. To date, there is nowhere for children to go.  

What is day-to-day life like for children in Rafah camps? 

An initiative to relieve the damages of the war

Ibrahim Ali Shaqaleh, a special education graduate and volunteer for the Palestinian Red Crest association, coordinates the Peace Birds Initiative. The Initiative aims to build a safe space for learning for children in Bader, one of the refugee camps in Rafah. Mr Shaqaleh and his team asked parents, children, and potential volunteers in order to better understand the learning needs of children living in the tents. In this way, a basic syllabus for reading, writing and arithmetic was put together. Displaced qualified senior teachers and student teachers volunteer to make possible the learning initiative in the camp. 

"I have a strong passion for my profession, and I have been using active learning as teaching approach”, says Khawla Shahada, a math teacher at Asmaa bint Abi Bakr School next to Sheikh Ridwan Pond in Gaza. 

Asma bint Abi Bakr school is 1 of 46 schools being repaired by UNICEF after the May 2021 escalation. Protection and non-violence, climate change mitigation and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) activities  have been additional ways to buttress the education system since that time (source: UNICEF Palestine on X). 

Currently, Ms Shahada teaches third, fourth, and fifth grades. The children are suffering, feeling lost and disconnected from their daily school lives and the opportunity to gather and get into the rituals of learning can produce a sense of normality. Even if reality is far from normal and the children are aware that can be find themselves and their families and friends in rubbles any time. Ms Shahada misses the sense of doing something meaningful. By volunteering to teach children, she is trying to return to a part of her life that, although it no longer exists it can be empowering in dealing the day-to-day, day-after-day traumas. 

“I hope that my volunteering will contribute to improving my own mental state, as this experience reminds of normal life, life as it was before the war." Ms Shahada adds.

The teaching schedule in Bader is organized so that the young 1st to 6th graders receive three hours of teaching per week. Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday for grade one, two, and three. Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday for grade four, five, and six. 

At the moment, 150 children participate in the Leaning initiative in Bader camp in Rafah.  In this class of approximately 19 participants in total (Pic. above), 11 children come from North of Wadi Gaza, 3 from Rafah and 5 from East Khan Younis.  The children come from families of doctors, teachers, academics, government employees and farmers. 

The overall situation

According to the UNRWA Situation Report #99 on the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (3 April 2024 at 22:30): 

The United Nations, World Bank and European Union released a joint Interim Damage Assessment summary. Using satellite imagery to assess damage the report found the following:

  • The ongoing conflict has damaged or destroyed approximately 62 per cent of all homes in Gaza,
  • The conflict has damaged or destroyed 84 per cent of all health facilities.
  • 625,000 children in Gaza are out of school as the education system has collapsed.

Considering the overall situation, the essential role of the initiative to the children’s livelihood is indisputable. Its dynamic to contribute to the whole family’s livelihood is also evident. 

As Mr Shaqaleh, coordinator for the learning initiative, adds, 

“Currently, we are receiving requests from displaced people to open additional stages, and there is also significant interest from volunteers willing to participate in teaching. However, space constraints allow for only one teaching tent. … We hope to expand with additional tents to engage children more fully in education.”

The initiative has received free copies of the psychosocial support activities booklet issued by UNRWA, and it distributes stationery for free to children." 

This article is written by Marianna Vivitsou and Montaser Al-Halabi. Marianna and Montaser work for OLIVE HEIICI project that is led by the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Marianna is post-doctoral researcher at UoH and Montaser is project coordinator for Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Montaser and his family are in forced displacement since October 2023. 


Images from the camp in Rafah

The images from the camp were taken by Montaser Al-Halabi. 

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