24 September 2012
Elham, 51, has always been committed to improving the lives of women in the Gaza Strip. As a supervisor in the women’s programme centre in the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, she has expanded the centre’s programming to include physical health facilities, computer centres, arts and crafts workshops, and educational forums.
“UNRWA’s gender initiative and the relief and social services programme allowed us to implement a range of activities in our centre, including Arabic and English literacy classes, IT training, and educational support units for girls”, Elham explains. “We deliberately make the activities enjoyable for the women and girls in our community, and that encourages them to stay and continue to learn.”
Yet Elham recognised that there were even more women in the community who weren’t coming in to the centre. With women taking on a large share of household and family responsibilities yet lacking equal participation in public life, she worried about the impact of unequal community engagement on the mental health and well-being of women. Compounded with rising levels of domestic violence due to unemployment and overcrowding in the Gaza Strip, she knew that many women were experiencing deep loneliness and had a hard time reaching out for support.
Reaching out to women in the community
“I knew that women in my community needed opportunities to socialise and to support one another, but they weren’t all going to be coming into the centre”, Elham recalls. “So we proposed the idea of a woman-to-woman support network. The feedback from the women we consulted was great, and a group of them agreed to establish the network.”
Together, they set out to provide a wide range of support to women in the Gaza Strip, with the ultimate goal of breaking down isolation and connecting women to the larger community.
“We started by visiting women everywhere – from their homes to the hospital – to deliver the message that we are here for everyone.”
While the network intended to provide support to women in the community, it also created opportunities for the women who delivered the project by giving them a chance to share and improve their skills.
Breaking down isolation to create community
Samira, 40, was one of the women who the network reached. A Palestine refugee who moved to Gaza from the West Bank, she found herself alone in a new community with few family members to turn to.
“When my young daughter was ill in the hospital, the women from the support network visited us to let us know we weren’t alone”, Samira says. “It was exactly the kind of support we needed to survive that difficult time, and the relationships have lasted to this day.”
With these kinds of success stories coming out of the Bureij women’s programme centre, UNRWA’s gender initiative and the relief and social services programme are planning to expand Elham’s ideas in centres across the Gaza Strip.
Elham couldn’t be happier. “It was fulfilling to see the results in my own community. Now to see the initiative take on a life of its own – it’s more than I thought possible.”