The Microfinance Department in Gaza organized its first trade fair to display the products and services from small and microenterprises run by Palestinians benefitting from UNRWA Microfinance loans. The trade fair is held under the patronage of the Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Sandra Mitchell on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Microfinance Department in UNRWA.
The fair is taking place at the UNRWA Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) in Gaza City and is expected to last for three days from 18th to 20th of July 2016.
The trade fair is a unique opportunity for the participants to display their products and services to the broader community in Gaza, including customers, potential partners and traders. It is a space where they can build new partnerships with other similar business owners. Furthermore they have the chance to interact with other financial and lending institutions and to discuss ideas of developing or expanding their businesses. Lastly, it is an event for them to share their success stories.
During the opening ceremony the Deputy Commissioner-General said that: "Today's trade fair is not only a success for UNRWA but also for those clients who turned their ideas into businesses and projects". Senior UNRWA staff, donor representatives, as well as representatives of international organizations operating in Gaza and representatives of the industry unions in Palestine were present for the opening of the fair.
The trade fair includes projects of 41 beneficiaries with different types of businesses ranging from food manufacturing, sewing, embroidery & accessories, banners & advertisement printing shops to fibreglass & aluminium workshops.
Mahmoud Al-Refa'e, a 32-year old Palestinian refugee from Al-Bureij refugee camp, is one of the Microfinance Department clients who got his first loan seven years ago in 2009 and another one in 2015. Mahmoud did not let himself be limited by his disability or by the dire economic situation of Gaza. "We have to overcome our situation, life must continue. This is what I did thanks to UNRWA who supported me to run this small boutique," Mahmoud said.
UNRWA encourages the development of an entrepreneurial culture to overcome the difficulties and hardships of the dire socio-economic context in the Gaza Strip. The blockade on Gaza – which entered its tenth year in June 2016 – along with the repeated cycles of armed conflict have crippled the enclave's economic sector and pushed a large part of the population into unemployment and poverty. The unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 41.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
UNRWA launched the microfinance initiative in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in the early 1990s, while its operations expanded to Jordan and Syria in 2003. With its credit products, UNRWA targets the needs of the entrepreneurial and unbanked sector of the community, including low-income Palestine refugees and working class families, to give them a chance to improve their living conditions and provide for health and educational needs of their families. During 2015, the Microfinance Department (MD) invested USD 37.90 million through the direct issuance of 38,193 loans in its four areas of operations, in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan and Syria.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 74 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Exclusive images by MEMO Photographer Mohammed Asad.