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R2E Campaign, Birzeit University , 23 June 2008
‘Break the Siege’ is a campaign by the Right to Education at Birzeit University to overcome the hardship faced by Palestinian students and educational institutions, due to the international economic embargo against the Palestinian Government imposed in January 2006. The financial crisis in the occupied territories was so endemic that it effectively posed a barrier to students’ right to education by depriving them of the ability to attend university or depriving them of the adequate standards of teaching, facilities and environment provided by the university.
Birzeit University was left short of USD$1.2m, as a result of the economic blockade. Faculty, students and parents all faced financial hardship by being directly deprived of salaries or indirectly affected by the grinding down of the economy. In response to this economic crisis, the Right to Education launched a campaign to allow Palestinians to at least maintain their basic right to education – a right that is as indispensable for the development of an individual as it is for a society, an economy and a nation.
Many students who studied during the period of the economic blockade have now graduated from the university, leaving behind large amounts of accumulated debt. Students are unable to obtain their certificate of graduation until all debts have been cleared. Employers usually insist on seeing the certificates as a pre-requisite for getting a job, which has left many of these students unemployed for over a year. This has contributed to increasing poverty levels amongst youth, who often are the sole supporters of their families, due to the difficulties faced in gaining employment caused by restrictions on movement and the economic situation in the OPT’s.
Meet the Students
|Jamil can now use his university degree to pursue his ambition to become a teacher|
Jamil Mafarjeh, from Beit Laqieh, graduated from Birzeit University in 2007 from the Faculty of Engineering. Jamil is now the main provider for a large family of seven, and although he is a qualified electrical engineer, he has been unable to secure any formal permanent employment since his graduation, due to the accumulated debt he owed to the university. Unfortunately his elderly father is ill with gangrene, so is unable to support the family. Jamil’s brother suffers from kidney failure, and is undergoing dialysis, an expensive but necessary treatment for his condition.
Jamil is from a smart family that believes strongly in education and being active members of society. Jamil volunteers in his village youth club, and contributed to the creation of a programme of activities for women, as previously the club was exclusively for men and children. In spite of his illness his brother gained a high score in his high school exams and is now studying Accounting in Al Quds Open University. Jamil’s sister also studies at Birzeit University, at the Faculty of Science, where she is a part-time student so that she can also work part-time at a pharmacy, in order to be able to pay her own fees. She has also taken a private loan from the company she works for, to be able to cover the cost of education, and the cost of transport from their village to Birzeit, which in itself adds up to a large amount, costing 21 Shekels for a one-way trip (approximately $5.80).
Through working a number of temporary jobs in construction, Jamil has managed to pay off most of his debt to the university. ‘Break the Siege’ also provided a grant to clear Jamil’s debt, so that he was able to get his certificate of graduation. Once Jamil got his certificate, he could start thinking about more serious employment options, as he could now use his university degree when applying for jobs. Jamil has used his degree to work in a cultural centre in Ramallah, teaching practical courses in electricity. He recently achieved the highest mark in Ramallah district in the government mathematics exam, which qualifies him to teach as a maths teacher at secondary school level. Now Jamil has a number of job interviews lined up at various schools, and he is looking forward to a bright future in teaching.
|Ahmad Salem, can now take up full-time employment after the grant helped to pay off his debts|
Ahmad Salem, from Qaryot village near Nablus, studied Finance at the Faculty of Trade and Economics. Ahmad also graduated in 2007, but has been unable to get a full-time job as he also graduated with a large debt owed to the University and was therefore unable to obtain his degree certificate. Ahmad recently completed a training course with the telecommunications company, Jawwal. Upon completion of the course he was offered a job by the same company, but was unable to take it up, as he could not produce his degree certificate. The company extended the deadline for Ahmad to bring his certificate, so that he could find ways to pay off his debt. He managed to raise some funding, and ‘Break the Siege’ helped Ahmad to pay off the rest.
Finally Ahmad can take up full time employment, and help to support his family. His father values education, and although he has a poorly-paid job in construction, he is financing the education of 4 children. Ahmad has 2 sisters – one of his sisters is at Al Quds Open University and his younger sister is still at school. Ahmad’s brother went to nursing school and worked for a while in Jerusalem, but due to the difficulty in obtaining permits to travel to Jerusalem, he is now unemployed.
When Ahmad first graduated, he worked in poorly-paid temporary construction jobs. It was impossible to make any savings and he was unable to get permanent work due to the fact that he didn’t have his degree certificate. The job at Jawwal will give Ahmad a chance to start making a life for himself, and to contribute to supporting his family.
How you can help
It was only with contributions from supporters that Jamil and Ahmad were able to complete their education, in spite of a devastating financial situation. The consequences of the economic blockade are on-going, and continue to affect the university, as well as many graduates who are unable to graduate due to the large debts they owe the university.
The Right to Education Campaign calls for donations to be made, no matter how small, to the ‘Break the Siege’ fund through tax deductible mechanisms which ensures every penny will go the a student in need. For further information on the Break the Siege Campaign and how to contribute, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to: http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article469