The Deheishe refugee camp was set up within the boundaries of Bethlehem in the West Bank to house some of the estimated three quarters of a million Palestinians displaced by the formation of Israel in 1948.
The 'temporary' camp is still in existence 60 years later, the only home many of the approximately 12,500 inhabitants (three times the number originally planned) have ever known. Overcrowding, as at all refugee camps, is a real problem; there are few public services, and those that do exist barely function; sewage disposal does not work well so hygiene in the camp suffers and medical care is limited. The non-governmental organisation, Karama (the Arabic word for 'dignity') opened in the camp in 2002 with the aim of improving the lives of the women and young people who live there, offering support alongside facilities and activities previously in pitifully short supply. Karima is working independently and is not affiliated to any political party.
The lifestyle taken for granted by citizens of developed countries is unknown to those who live in the many Palestinian refugee camps. Unemployment stands at more than 50% and restrictions such as roadblocks and curfews make day-to-day existence an ongoing struggle for survival.
Since 2002, Karama has instigated a range of educational programmes for women. However, before they could begin classes, the women, ranging from their mid-20s to their late 30s, had to establish their commitment to the schemes by stepping out of the roles expected of them as wives and mothers, and learn to balance family life with their wish to emancipate themselves through learning.
The first step for these women was to learn to read and write, only then could they could proceed with the Karama programme.
They then went through secondary level education before moving on to the high school level. Some of the women have since gone on to university, but even those who did not are now in a much better position to contribute to their families and the local economy but, perhaps most significantly, they all serve as an inspiration for their own children other women in their community.
Regular English language lessons further assist the women in being able to communicate with the outside world, giving them access to foreign media sources and western journalists. And classes explaining their rights as human beings as well as those specifically as women are designed to empower them.
As well as women, the...