“It is not just about money, it is about saving lives”. Bilal Basheer 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 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 months 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. There are already 300 lifeguards on the job, but there is a need for more to ensure the safety of people swimming and cover the most densely areas there.
Bilal Basheer is one of the 120 lifeguards supported by UNDP’s Gaza emergency job creation programme with a USD 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 will generate approximately 6,000 workdays for young people over a 50-day period that will run till the end of September 2018. With an aim to improve livelihoods, 120 job opportunities will be provided to skilled lifeguards whose jobs across the Gaza Strip will ensure the safety of people in and around the water this 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 youth, this initiative comes as part of UNDP’s emergency job creation programme in Gaza that 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 money, it is also about saving people’s lives. “When I read or hear about someone who lost his or her life while swimming, I feels 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.