If you go down to Gaza seaport you will find fishermen sitting in small groups repairing fishing nets and sewing new ones. They sit in circles talking to each other or listening to a radio station broadcasting old songs. Listening to them, each and every one has a story of Gazan life and the huge difficulties that they encounter on a daily basis trying to feed themselves and their children. These difficulties include the closure of borders and crossing points, the nonexistence of raw materials, increased unemployment and unprecedented poverty levels. The fishermen used to go fishing in their own boats, but they are now unable to operate these boats due to a lack of financial resources and an external market for export. Some boats have simply been destroyed during the conflict.
However, for the small groups mending nets there is some hope. These groups are part of UNRWA's Job Creation Programme (JCP). For mending and repairing nets the fishermen are paid a monthly salary, which goes some way towards alleviating the crippling poverty that many have found themselves in.
Wajih Hammad, 44 years, is a fisherman from Beach Camp and one of the beneficiaries of the JCP. Hammad says "I have been a fisherman for over twenty years, and have never been in such circumstances like the ones we are enduring now. This project of UNRWA comes to help us by providing us with labourers to repair fishing nets. This is seen by us as a great help by UNRWA in providing a source of income for a number of the unemployed people who are looking after their families. This also saves us a lot of time and effort. In the past we used to need at least a month to repair a fishing net. Now this does not take more than a week for each. It also helps old fishermen who are unable to go fishing. Life has become easier because of this highly appreciated assistance".
Net repair is not the only project on offer to fishermen. Other work placements include guarding the boats and tools of fishermen at night, gathering fishery wealth statistics and cleaning the beach. Reyad El Shrafi is currently working gathering fishery wealth statistics. Sharfi says, "I really benefit from this project. I was a fisherman for more than thirty years. Because of the tough situation the Gaza Strip is going through, I became unemployed. I have 10 sons and daughters whose ages range from two months to 22 years. Four of them are studying at universities. This is a really heavy load that forces me to look for another job so that I can feed my family members, afford their basic needs and pay the fees of universities. By being employed in that job, I can afford what I need. ".
At present UNWRA is aiming to provide 22,500 short term employment opportunities a month in Gaza. However, due to funding shortfalls UNRWA is only able to provide less than half this target. Job creation is vital to boost the faltering Gazan economy and allows beneficiaries to allocate scarce financial resources to household priorities. Furthermore, JCP employees often assist in the delivery of essential public services such as education and health, as well as supporting the agricultural and fishing sectors. But perhaps most important is the sense of hope and purpose that the JCP gives its beneficiaries. The provision of work rather than direct cash grants contributes towards the maintenance of dignity amongst the most vulnerable. As Hammad the fisherman states, it 'raises our spirits', something which is sorely needed in Gaza.