Real Lives

Human interest stories


Boy’s cry for help answered

© UNICEF-oPt/2010/El Baba
Ahmad Abu Rjail, 17, is actively participating in the class

Gaza, 22 October 2010 - Ahmad Abu Rjail, 17, was asking for help. Long hours working in the tunnels smuggling goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and back were taking their toll on him.

Rising to be at work at six and labouring to dig out the excess dirt from inside the tunnel until the late evenings.  Ahmad was working up to 12 hours a day, and  had little time to enjoy a normal childhood. He wanted to quit and go back to school.

But when the coordinator at the Adolescent-Friendly Space in Rafah tried to help him get back into class, the principal refused. The boy was a troublemaker, he said.

It was only when UNICEF staff paid a visit to the Adolescent-Friendly Space that they heard his story and decided to intervene.

Today, Ahmad is glad to be back attending classes.

“It is better than the tunnels,” he says. “They are death and danger. It is better for one to study now and work later, rather than be part of dangerous labour.”

Ahmad worked with five other boys in one tunnel, clearing ground and water from its depths. One of his friends lost the use of his leg when the tunnel collapsed upon him. Another friend died in one of the frequent Israeli bombing raids meant to deter the illicit smuggling.

The boys weren’t paid money for their work, only in the goods that came through the tunnel.

“I wasn’t getting a lot of money and it just wasn’t working for me,” he says.

Quitting work to go back to school wasn’t an easy decision. Ahmad is the eldest boy in a family of 14. His father remains unemployed, unable to continue working in Israel as a day labourer.

Since June 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Israel has imposed a crippling closure of most ports of entry, allowing entry and exit to few people and goods. In July of this year, Israel announced its intent to ease the blockade and published a list of items banned from entering Gaza.

Still, the United Nations says that only a complete lifting of the blockade can address the humanitarian crisis.

Today, 61 per cent of Gaza's population is food insecure and unemployment is nearly 40 per cent, according to the UN.

To continue contributing to the family’s income, Ahmad works in a factory, lifting crates of bottles, for two hours a day. For this work, he makes nearly $7 a day.


© UNICEF-oPt/2010/El Baba
Ahmad Abu Rjail, 17, is playing soccer with other children

Since he started school again, those around Ahmad see a great change in him.

“In the beginning, he was a troublemaker,” says Taghreed Khader, a coordinator at the Adolescent-Friendly Space.  “Now he started to attend class and study his books. Before he didn’t listen to anyone, but now he listens and helps his sister.”

“I used to be tired from work,” explains Ahmad. “I didn’t have time or energy to help at home. Now I have the opportunity to support them.

UNICEF with partners, through the 100 adolescent-friendly spaces, equip young people with basic but critical skills.  Adolescents participate in remedial learning to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, they learn about proper hygiene, how to avoid risky behaviours, such as smoking and how to make informed decisions.  Their participation in recreational activities, teaches adolescents how to promote friendship and fair play, and they learn how to respect others to ensure that they develop into caring individuals.  These spaces are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, Swedish International Development Agency, the Italian and Norwegian Governments, and the Italian and Dutch National Committees for UNICEF.



 Email this article

unite for children