The camp known as Deir El-Balah is currently one of the worst places on the planet to live.
Located in the Gaza Strip, it is home to 24,525 refugees under the current blockade, whose daily life only continues get worse.
Unemployment is almost universal, with most families living on relief food packages from the U.N. Basic power is unreliable, and hospitals are forced to rely on gas-powered generators. Sewage and pollution is everywhere, and 97 percent of the water supply is undrinkable.
Some think the Deir El-Balah will become unlivable in the next two years.
What schools exist there practically run 24/7 due to the massive overcrowding. As one could expect, the students there find it hard to see a future; they are literally walled off from the rest of the world. Drug use and suicide are far too common.
But there is hope. And it came last year from the students themselves. A group of teens from the Sokaina Girls School got together and built their own library. Their school, like the majority of schools all over Gaza, didn’t have one.
This was no easy task. The girls would have to venture out into the market, track down books and mingle with shopkeepers, something adolesent females just don’t do in their society. Yet they did do it, travelling in a large group of forty, accompanied with a $300 grant they received from UNICEF.
After braving the unknown market place, the schoolgirls were faced with the sad reality that $300 would only by 30 books at best. This left them no money for shelving, tables and chairs. Undaunted, they hunted through the garbage dumps to see what they could come up with. They were able to fashion tables out of wood scraps, and chairs out of old tires.
They also wrote to United Nation NGO’s for book donations. Soon, they had 500 brand new books, and the Sokaina Girls School had its first library. The Education Ministry was so impressed that it provided the library with brand new tables, chairs, and hundreds of more books.
The young teens who saw opportunity out of less than nothing arenow all part of the school’s library board, ensuring that it continues to grow.
UNICEF is now replicating the girl’s success with their own library intitiave, hoping to help more young people in the Gaza “to lead, learn, and have the opportunity to develop their minds and put their great ideas into practice. When you create a library … you have a choice about what to think. Reading is the basis of that choice.”
Mike Selby is Information Services Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library