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Cash-for-work projects in Gaza – part two

West Bank and Gaza, May 1, 2010

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In the late afternoon sunshine, we leave a dusty alley in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Gaza City, and are welcomed into a small sewing workshop by Ali, the coordinator for this cash-for-work team.

“Today they are making school uniforms,” he tells me through a translator. I hold up a pair of dark blue tracksuit bottoms that come up to my knees. Too small for a lanky European such as me, we all smile and agree, but presumably just the right size for the school children in Gaza who will receive them.

Projects such as this show clearly the duel benefits cash-for-work activities can bring, producing items such as school uniforms (or bread rolls from the bakery) that are then distributed free to the kindergartens and schools most in need, while also providing vital income for workers such as these.

Not long ago there were numerous clothing manufacturers in Gaza, but in the past couple of years most have closed down as exports from Gaza have been banned and they have lost their markets in neighbouring countries. Of the eighteen women in the workshop today, all had once worked in the tailoring sector, but now have no source of income and have at least five family members they have to support.

It is no surprise then, that when we ask the women how they find the work, they respond with nods and smiles and even a few grins and thumbs up. But, they quickly say — becoming serious and earnest once again — two months work is not enough and they need more. This is a familiar refrain that I hear time and time again throughout the day.

And this is the problem facing organizations such as Mercy Corps in Gaza. Contrary to the usual post-conflict and post-natural disaster scenario — where emergency assistance is followed by recovery and normality gradually begins to resume — in Gaza there is very little improvement and no return to normality, with the blockade preventing any such recovery.

Cash-for-work activities such as this ECHO-funded programme provide immediate and crucial relief, enabling beneficiaries to feed their families for today. But in Gaza, these same individuals will need the same support tomorrow, if they are to avoid sliding further into debt and hunger.