Students protest outside of university in Gaza

Last week, I received a phone call from abroad asking me to describe life in Gaza. I felt I would like to say a lot but at the same moment I did not have enough energy to express myself. It was the hardest task I have ever been asked.

The frustration and fatigue around me has crept into my soul as well, until I even lost the ability to write.
The recent scene of the students expelled from the exam halls at Al-Azhar University and some other universities in Gaza shocked me and left a deep feeling of sadness.

These students are unable to pay university fees and now they will lose their future and their only hope of a decent life for a reason beyond their control. It is the ruthless poverty which kills the future of youth, their dreams and their ambitions, instills feelings of helplessness, crushes their dignity and hurts us—the onlookers—who are unable to help them.

These students were standing outside the doors of universities across Gaza but they were not allowed to take their exams. They might be smarter than you or me, they might become more successful and more useful to their communities if life were more fair and gave them a little better conditions.

I receive many calls every day from students asking for help in paying their university fees. Each one tells me a similar story of how they spent long days studying to take exams in order to graduate and get work to support themselves and their families. Many students walk long distances to university because they can’t pay the transportation. Others borrow books from their classmates or study together because they can’t buy books. Now hundreds of students were forced to stop their studies this semester because they can’t afford to pay fees. Here in Palestine, students struggle to get their right to education while in many other countries it is guaranteed.

My work at MECA includes assisting with the university scholarship project and I also volunteer to fundraise with other scholarship efforts. This has made me more aware the issues Palestinian university students face. I feel responsible for them. Adding to that, I have three brothers at the university so I know very well the suffering and difficulties that parents face in paying university fees and how they deprive themselves from the simple needs to provide their sons and daughters with the transportation, books, university fees and other expenses to graduate and become active in the community.

It is not easy to plant hope in hearts of your children and work hard to build for them a future better than yours only to find that the circumstances around you come together to destroy what you built.

In Gaza, decades of military occupation, the Israeli siege, Palestinian fighting between political factions, and other factors have led to a deteriorating situation on every level – political, economic, security, social, cultural and psychological. The poverty level reached more than 70% with high unemployment rate. We have just a few hours of electricity each day and contaminated water, our hospitals lack basic medicines and the crossings are closed. All this and more make education the last hope for young people. It is the only path to a better future for them, their families and their homeland and even this hope is now forbidden.

It is a real tragedy when you see despair in the eyes of youth. Life in Gaza now is a real tragedy.