“It is not just about money, it is about saving lives.”
Bilal Basheer, 28, is a Palestinian fisherman and a lifeguard from Gaza who supports a family of four and has been in love with the sea since he was just ten years old.
“I learned fishing and lifeguarding from my father. I have my own boat and am considered a professional fisherman and lifeguard”. Six years ago, Bilal received a 30-day training to become a licensed lifeguard. “Ever since I received my certificate, I have been applying every summer for a job in order to secure an income over a three-month period to support my family and respond to their needs.”
With over 18 hours of electricity cuts a day, the sea remains the only outing that provides relief away from the harsh living conditions the Gaza population faces. Being the only summer destination, hundreds of vacationers come to sea. According to the Syndicate of Fishermen and Workers in Fishing and Fish Farming, at least 600 lifeguards are needed to cover the Gaza seashore during the summer months. 300 lifeguards are on the job all year long, but more are needed to cover the densest areas and ensure the safety of people swimming.
Bilal is one of the 120 lifeguards supported by UNDP’s Gaza emergency job creation programme with a US$105,000 fund from the Islamic Development Bank. Through phase two of the Palestinian Economic Empowerment Programme (DEEP II) implemented by UNDP, the emergency job creation initiative for lifeguards generated approximately 6,000 workdays for people ages 20–40, over a 50-day period that concluded in October 2018. These job opportunities provided skilled lifeguards across the Gaza Strip with livelihood, and the ability to ensure the safety of people in and around the water last summer season.
“I am glad I got this opportunity, otherwise I would have been in debt. I have been working in fishing this year, but it is not that good as we are not allowed to go beyond the nine or six nautical miles into the sea, in a best-case scenario. Therefore, I had to borrow some money to support my family — to buy food, milk, and diapers for my children. Now I can give people their money back as soon as I receive my first salary from this job,” said Bilal.
With unemployment rates reaching a staggering 60% among people ages 15–29, the UNDP’s emergency job creation programme in Gaza covers interventions related to infrastructure and service delivery, agriculture, youth entrepreneurship and e-works, education, capacity development and vocational training among others. This specific initiative is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and the Syndicate of Fishermen and Workers in Fishing and Fish Farming.
For Bilal, it is not only about an income, it is also about saving people’s lives. “When I read or hear about someone who lost his or her life while swimming, I feel so sad, and I wish I could have been in the area where the person was swimming. I consider it a privilege and a burden to be responsible for people’s lives. I should always be cautious and focused, and with every human I save, I get prouder and happier,” Bilal explains.
- According to the Environment Quality Authority, almost 75% of Gaza beach is polluted and swimming is not allowed in all areas. Accordingly, the clean areas are highly dense with visitors and need a greater number of lifeguards.
- The US$105,000 initiative is part of a US$2 million emergency job creation programme in Gaza, designed to create jobs that target youth in the industrial sector, entrepreneurship, voice dubbing, and rapid employment projects. With almost 60% unemployment rate among Palestinian youth in Gaza, UNDP will be creating over 2,500 immediate and short-term job opportunities over a 12-month period, directly benefiting 2,979 people, with 40% of job placements targeting women.
- With support from the Islamic Development Bank and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, UNDP launched another rapid employment scheme covering approximately 1,500 young men and women, including persons with disabilities, who will benefit from short to medium term employment opportunities.
Story by UNDP PAPP; Photos by: UNDP PAPP/Shareef Sarhan