NEW YORK — Just days into the start of the new school term most schools in Gaza are closed due to a strike by government workers, including teachers, who haven’t been paid for six months. 750,000 pupils are affected. The strike is open-ended and currently most of the 1,726 public schools in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) are either partially or completely closed.
At Azzoun Itmeh School for Girls in the Northern West Bank, only 7 out of 22 teachers turned up for work on Sunday. A similar story is being played out across the region with teachers struggling to get by. Around 70 per cent of all students in oPt are affected by the strikes.
Teachers suffering from lack of pay
“Teachers are suffering from the lack of pay,” says Asma’a Yousef Alshayyah, the principal of Al Farabi girls’ school in Gaza. “One of my teachers managed for one month. The second month he had to borrow money. The third month, he and others were forced to sell their gold in order to pay for transportation just to get to school.”
UNICEF had hoped the new school year would bring a return to normality for these youngsters who have lived through their most dangerous summer since the increase in violence began. In July alone, 36 children were killed.
“In the beginning, I was so excited about getting back to my school,” says 15-year-old Heba Salami, a student from the secondary Azzoun Itmeh girls’ school in the North West Bank. “When we came to school on the first day and saw our teachers we were so happy, but the following day we were shocked that most of our teachers didn’t come to school because of the strike,” she said.
Back to School campaign postponed
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) has been forced to postpone a Back to School campaign because of the strike. The campaign has been made possible with support from donors including the Saudi Committee for Relief of Palestinian People, the Governments of Sweden, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as the UK National Committee for UNICEF and the UN Trust Fund for Human Security, among others.
“We thank UNICEF, we thank them very much for their cooperation and support of the school’s requirements,” says, Asma’a Yousef Alshayyah, standing amongst new supplies. “I really hope that these uniforms can be distributed to the students. However, as you can see teachers and students are on strike. Therefore we are postponing distributing the uniforms until everything goes back to normal.”
Along with 30,000 school uniforms, other supplies to be distributed in the campaign include teaching kits, stationary supplies, school-in-a-box kits and sports and recreational equipment.