At the beginning of each semester, students are often excited to sign up for Triple Exposure’s art and photography classes at TYO. Schools in the refugee camps don’t have art departments, and coming to TYO provides a rare opportunity to exercise the more artistic and creative parts of their personalities. Despite their excitement, however, art and photography —and even formal schooling— can take a backseat to another perceived need: to work.
According to UNRWA, about 26% of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank live below the “deep poverty” line. This widespread poverty is linked to high unemployment rates in the camps, which are estimated to be over 50% in certain areas like Biddu. To mitigate the lack of a steady income, children from struggling refugee families are often forced or expected to work. As a result, approximately 10% of child refugees are employed in the West Bank. Over 50% of these children are unpaid.
“We see a lot of child labour. The poverty rate among Palestinians tripled since 1999 and has reached 70 percent. This has an impact on children. They have to go out and be the breadwinners for the family to survive.” – Monica Awad, UNICEF
Evidence of the high rate of child labor can be seen inside a Triple Exposure classroom, where students, usually male, sometimes miss class in order to go to work with their fathers or older brothers. Take, for example, a 13-year-old boy named Yousef, from the Old Askar refugee camp. Witnessing his mother struggling with finances, Yousef dropped out of school in order to be a building-painter with his18-year-old brother, from 9 o’clock in the morning to 7 at night, every day. His relief from this work was photography class, which he attended, rather diligently, for an hour twice a week.
Of course, photography class cannot serve as a substitute for a basic education. After learning of his situation, TYO began working with Yousef’s family to get him back into a formal classroom, with tutoring and academic resources provided by TYO. As is true for all children, Yousef shouldn’t have to work to help care for his family. We are happy to work in his stead.