Norhan Abu Sharekh, a Palestine refugee, lives with her six-member family in Gaza City. After completing her university studies in Business Administration, she received a six-month placement as a human resources assistant with the UNRWA Gaza Field Office through the Agency’s Job Creation Programme (JCP).

“Four months ago, after I was interviewed, I started working in the human resources department,” explains Norhan. “My main task is responding to over-the-phone or in-person staff inquiries. Every day, my colleague and I deal with at least 80 staff inquiries.”

She adds, “I used to volunteer at UNRWA; this is my first paid job. It is the first time that I am gaining real work experience. I have also become more self-confidant and been able to build my professional network.”

Norhan is one of the lucky ones. Finding a job in Gaza is not an easy venture; the socioeconomic conditions in the tiny enclave are extremely dire, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the joblessness rate stood at an average of 40.6 per cent – 68.6 per cent for women – according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The situation is particularly bleak for youth – for many, finding a job that pays the bills, allows them to afford rent and helps them raise a family remains a far-off dream, with the average youth unemployment rate standing at 61.4 per cent.

However, through JCP, UNRWA works to mitigate the impact of the collapsed Gaza economy and labour market by providing livelihood opportunities for Palestine refugees. The programme offers job placements in UNRWA installations or community organizations supporting rehabilitation work in the Gaza Strip. Due to a long waiting list, opportunities for skilled positions are offered for a maximum of three months and contracts for skilled positions are capped at six months. Only one member of a given household is eligible for a job opportunity at any given time. The programme prioritizes placing JCP employees in projects that maintain and rehabilitate public infrastructure, boost the private sector, improve environmental conditions, and target disadvantaged groups.

The programme targets both skilled and unskilled workers, as well as professionals. Priority is given to applicants from households who have been assessed as living below the poverty line of less than US$ 3.87 per person per day; other criteria include gender, age, skills or location. Overall, UNRWA aims to provide 35 per cent of skilled opportunities to women and 25 per cent of all job opportunities to youth. UNRWA also offers thousands of opportunities for recent graduates of Gaza’s universities through its Graduate Training Programme, which benefited 2,148 graduates in 2017 and has provided job opportunities to over 31,451 graduates since its inception in 2001.

Most importantly, JCP offers a source of income, dignity, self-respect and self-reliance to Palestine refugee families. It remains one of the most effective ways to support communities, inject cash into the local economy and stabilize struggling businesses. For many women in particular, it also offers a chance to be exposed to and play a role in the public space.

In the first quarter of 2017, UNRWA created skilled and unskilled job opportunities for 9,092 beneficiaries through JCP, injecting US$ 4.6 million into the Gaza economy. If sufficient funding is made available, UNRWA plans to offer short-term employment opportunities for approximately 53,193 Palestine refugees living below the poverty line in 2017.

By helping beneficiaries like Norhan gain valuable work experience and earn a living, UNRWA helps instil hope among the next generation of Palestine refugees. Thanks to her JCP placement, Norhan is able to cover her personal expenses and save money towards a Master’s degree programme. “As a young woman with my own financial resources, I feel productive, strong and independent,” she says proudly.