Living and working conditions for most Palestinian families worsen year after year due to harassment from Israeli occupying forces and settlers.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been stuck in a financial crisis for years. After the United States stopped its financial support to the aid agency in 2018, it was almost unable to continue its vital services for some 5.7 million Palestinian refugees.
In late 2021, UNRWA Commissioner Philippe Lazzarini warned that the agency was in the "danger zone" and faced potential collapse. Many UNRWA-sponsored schools in Gaza have stopped providing educational supplies to the students, such as notebooks, pens and even meals, and poor nutritious and psychological conditions started to appear.
"The unprecedented new reality imposes a new financial burden on the families which are already suffering from extreme poverty due to the Israeli blockade," Dirdah al-Shaer, a Gaza-based psychologist, said.
"That is why a lot of students hate going to school and prefer to work for meager pay just to help their families, as "schools have become more of a burden than an institution that seeks to educate, develop and prepare them to be builders of the future."
Youssef al-Ghoul, 14, dropped out of school two months ago to work at a local market as a porter, so to help his eight-member family financially after his father's grocery store was hit by Israeli airstrikes.
"We lost our only source of livelihood," al-Ghoul said, adding that his father, later diagnosed with blood cancer, could not work anymore so the family can hardly keep going financially.
Thus al-Ghoul and three brothers decided to quit school and find jobs with meager pay in order to support the whole family. Usually they earn about US$4 dollars a day per person, which is "barely enough for us to pay the rent and provide the minimum food needed for our family," al-Ghoul said.
Poverty forced Ahmed al-Aghbar, a 13-year-old refugee child in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza Strip, to drop out of school two years ago to help keep his family afloat. "When I see students going to school, I feel very sad," al-Aghbar said, adding that he used to dream of becoming a teacher when grown up.
"My father can hardly bring food back home ... I feel that I am old enough to take family responsibilities," the boy said.
For Al-Aghbar, failing to afford a new uniform like everyone else and being bullied for no pocket money at school was the last straw. After quitting school, he started helping his father with fishing off the Gaza coast.
"We are deprived of education because of poverty, war and the curtailment of the UNRWA," he added, referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza.
The 13-member al-Aghbar family's situation was not that bad 16 years ago, when Israel permanently imposed a land, air and sea blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, forcing them to live on the aid provided by the UN relief agency.
"My son cannot provide the minimum amount of food because the Israelis forbid him from fishing in the sea for long distances. The Israelis even prevent Palestinian fishermen from fishing in times of crisis," said al-Aghbar's grandmother Umm Ayman al-Aghbar.
What's worse, the UNRWA has significantly reduced its services year by year, leading to a shortage of food and educational supplies, while Israel often launches attacks against Gaza, the 67-year-old woman said