Our Children’s Village is located around 15 km from Rafah town and is part of a village called Deir Sultan on the southern reaches of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Territories as a whole are politically contentious and the precise area they cover is disputed. They include part of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and cities such as Jericho and Nablus. Population is estimated at over four million, with around 1.6 million in the crowded Gaza Strip.
Despite being recognised as a distinct state by one hundred countries, Palestine is not recognised internationally. This makes its future uncertain. Around six million people - the estimated size of the Palestinian diaspora – mostly live in neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
An unstable community
The widespread violence and economic difficulties of the region are caused by long-standing disputes with neighbouring Israel over the right to occupy the Territories. Although the Gaza Strip borders the Mediterranean coastline for some of its length, the rest of the Territories are landlocked. Israel imposes and enforces economic blockades and there are frequent and fierce military battles.
The political and economic climate of the region inevitably leads to insecurity and violence. Meaningful employment is hard to find and it is the young who suffer most from the stresses and ignominy of being unable to achieve their goals and improve their and their family’s living conditions. In 2010 it was estimated that some 70% of Gazians struggled to survive on incomes below the poverty line. In the same year, some 40% of the adult population were unemployed.
How instability affects children
Around 53% of Palestinians are under the age of 18. During their short lives they have suffered high levels of public violence caused by the political circumstances of the region. They will have seen family and friends lose their lives or suffer severe injury. This affects them both physically and psychologically.
The economic blockades lead to severe and long-lasting shortages of commodities, including food, which becomes more costly as incomes grow smaller. Young Palestinians are not protected from this deprivation. The continuing economic down-turn means that there has been a marked decrease in the number and quality of public projects and strategies which hope to improve their employment prospects. Decreasing investment in education, housing and healthcare affects them too, as the number of people living in poverty increases.
Educational opportunities – widely believed to be the fastest route out of poverty – are also less available, and the number of young adults failing to benefit from a secondary education was estimated at 22% in 2010. The constant threat of danger when moving away from home joins early marriage and poor educational achievement as the predominant reasons for this. Because of the parlous state of the economy, increasing numbers of young people are expected to work and play their part in family enterprises or farm; this, of course, makes it hard for them to attend school regularly.
Our role in Rafah
Our Children’s Village in Rafah was established in 1999. We provide a range of services to support not just the children under our care, but those in need in the wider community.
An SOS School opened in 2001, and the SOS Nursery provide places for over 150 young people and over 300 children and babies respectively. Our work with the wider community does not stop here. We provide a range of assistance and support to struggling families with the aim of improving their economic and personal circumstances so that family groupings can achieve stability despite the difficult circumstances in which they live.
Caring for orphaned children
When there is no other avenue for them, we take children directly into our care . Our Children’s Village provides safety, security and stability under the watchful eyes and loving care of our staff. Children find a new loving home in one of 12 SOS families, and are cared for by an SOS mother.
Once older, they can attend a programme which supports young adults who are making the transition from childhood to adult independence. As well as encouraging them in their studies, our off-site centre for young adults offers accommodation and support as they undertake higher education or training and prepare for independent life. We help them as they learn how to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions.
We support children and young people while they make their way to independent adulthood.