Helping young women in the West Bank engineer a better future

West Bank and Gaza, October 15, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Heather Mangrum/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Elena Buryan addresses the crowd of students, parents and local business leaders at the Doura School Career Day. Photo: Heather Mangrum/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Heather Mangrum/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The school's principal speaks with Elena about the progress of the program. Photo: Heather Mangrum/Mercy Corps

“Wow! Look at this turn out – there are so many people here today!”

Elena Buryan, Mercy Corps’ Acting Mission Director for West Bank-Gaza, was at once surprised and encouraged as we entered the packed courtyard of the Doura Vocational Secondary School for Girls in West Bank Wednesday morning.

The Doura School is a technical vocation school for young women offering intensive instruction and apprentices in software engineering and development, electronics, and other skilled areas in great demand in Palestine’s growing ICT and ICT-using industries.

We were there for the school’s Career Day, which featured Elena as one of the keynote speakers, and the sight of hundreds of excited parents, current and former students, community supporters, area business leaders and local media was indeed amazing.

Elena was joined by representatives from Palestine’s Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Labor, as well as the school’s administration, staff and students from the two-year old school for a kick off celebration for a busy day of job recruitment sessions and classroom tours.

ICT is the fastest growing sector in Palestine and the demand for skilled professionals is increasing rapidly as the sector emerges as the industry that can give the conflict-ridden territory the much needed economic boost it needs. At the same time, unemployment, especially among the expanding youth population, is one of the most urgent issues facing Palestine today. Through support from the European Commission, Mercy Corps’ work with the Doura School serves the urgent needs of both youth and business. A vital component in the Palestine’s economic development strategy, these efforts were repeatedly acknowledged that morning by the government officials and school administration.

Mercy Corps is also helping to redefine the face of Palestine’s labor market. The tech industry is not a traditional or familiar one for most women there and, while the perception of women in the work force changing, opportunities are often limited to gender-traditional jobs. With the Doura School, Mercy Corps is empowering young women with the competitive skills and confidence needed to join the new wave of change that will help develop Palestine’s economy, as well as provide young women with more career options and financial independence.

At the podium, Elena spoke of Mercy Corps’ work with the school, from constructing the well planned campus, classrooms and labs with funding from USAID, to helping to develop its market-driven curriculum and continuing to build the capacity of its staff, bridging the gap between education providers and employers’ needs in the sector. She also offered recommendations for continuing the progress and support for the Palestine National Authority’s comprehensive restructuring of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, including making more loans available for young entrepreneurs to help create even more jobs in the sector.

Her words were met with immense enthusiasm by the parents, businesses, students and government officials present who were clearly ready for more schools like Doura and the promise for the future that would come with them.

But the most heartfelt sentiments came from the many students who, meeting Elena for the first time today, lined up to thank her and Mercy Corps for helping provide the life-changing opportunities they had received. As one 18 year old electronics graduate remarked, “Without this school, I would just be sitting at home.”

That feeling of surprise and encouragement once again took over, revealed in the warm smile on Elena’s face. She in turn thanked the girls for working so hard to make the school such a great success.