It is easy to suppose that with so many problems blighting life in Gaza, the issues of siege and apartheid are the only ones with which the people must contend. However even in the midst of these circumstances, problems such as disability are still very much present. The Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children provides support children with the misfortune to be born not only without rights, but without even their hearing. The institute also provides work to the deaf and blind of Gaza, who are employed as craftsmen and women, fashioning beautiful goods in traditional Palestinian styles and designs, which are then sold by the centre.
The remainder of our fourth day in Gaza was spent running various teaching sessions and workshops for students in the Gaza Strip. We travelled to the centre of the strip to the Palestine Technical College, an institution that aims to provide technical education in key skills such as engineering and design to students throughout the Gaza Strip. After an introductory meeting with the dean and staff of the college, we split into two groups to commence our day of teaching. A session run by one of our delegation covered the applications and use of innovative new technologies such as 3D sensory software (such as used by the popular Kinect). As part of this theme we delivered a package of “Raspberry Pie” computers, along with the necessary kit to set up 3D sensory equipment at the college for use by the students.
Whilst this workshop took place, the remainder of the group were conducting a creative writing competition in which students were given an hour to write a short story with the title of “The Key” (a well known and emotive symbol of the right to return, a legal entitlement of all Palestinian refugees, which is denied by Israel in breach of international law). Although the standard of English and the content of the stories varied across the cohort of students, there were a number of stories that were both well written, and often incredibly touching and powerful, be they tragic stories of ordinary lives broken by the effects of bombing and death, or beautiful tributes to the lost homes of Palestinians made refugees by occupation.
After a final series of sessions on the process of application to British and Malaysian universities from abroad, including the process of UCAS application, the sending of reference letters, the writing of CVs, and the methods of receiving sponsorship programmes for both countries, we again divided, with a smaller group heading to centre for students from around Gaza. Here they ran, with great success, a workshop on English language, developing from an initial question and answer exercise to an in depth discussion on culture and cultural differences between Palestine and the UK.
Despite the difficulties facing Gaza from all angles, and an incredibly high level of unemployment, Gaza has one of the highest levels of education in the world. Although fostering such a level of learning in such a situation may seem incredible, after spending time with the students of Gaza it is easy to see how it is achieved. The youth of Gaza have an incredible passion for learning, and a pride and diligence in their work. One student we spoke with studied engineering, but told us with passion about his reading of the works of Shakespeare, and was delighted with a gift of the script of Othello. It is a testament to the people of Gaza that they work so hard and despite all the problems they face, still endeavour to be the best they can, and show the world that there is a whole other face to Palestine, a face of intelligence and passion that many countries would envy.