Violence and lack of security are everyday realities for children living in Palestine. Due to ongoing geopolitical conflict in the region, traditional safe havens such as schools have turned into targets of violence and education in the region has taken repeated hits, in terms of infrastructure and morale. Most preschools lack basic learning materials, play equipment and other educational resources. Additionally, preschool teachers and supervisors are under-trained and poorly paid with few professional development opportunities. Compounding the issue, most pre-schools charge fees, making it inaccessible to a large percentage of Palestinian children, especially those living in the remote corners of Palestine.
Beit Misrim and Anab Al Kabir are remote villages typical of the West Bank - landlocked on all four sides and at the heart of the conflict, the villages are finding it difficult to kick-start and sustain growth. Unemployment is rampant and few can afford to pay the tuition or transportation fees to send their children to pre-school. The children in this region have historically fallen behind their global counterparts when it comes to reading, writing and counting due to the lack of pre-schooling facilities.
That reality is set to change with the Dubai Cares funded Right Start! Programs being implemented by ANERA in the area. Right Start!, the early childhood education program initiated by ANERA takes quality pre-school education to remote communities like Beit Misrim and Anab Al Kabir. Thanks to funding from Dubai Cares and support from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, ANERA is establishing kindergarten classes within existing elementary schools across the West Bank, as part of a campaign to make pre-school education available to the most marginalized communities of the West Bank and Gaza.
Under the early childhood development program, the preschools were remodeled and outfitted with curtains, carpets, child-sized tables and chairs to create a cheerful learning environment for students. The school’s playground was also redesigned with safety in mind and the bathrooms were renovated to make them gender-sensitive and usable for primary-age children. Dubai Cares and ANERA also provided high-quality learning materials, from books and puzzles to art materials and special reading corner. The revamp was not limited to infrastructural development, preschool teachers also utilized their skills and the tools provided to stimulate the children’s creativity and level of learning.
The support for the school was evident in the anticipation surrounding its opening, especially amongst the children of West Bank. On the opening of the Beit Mirsim school, four-year old Manal said that she couldn’t sleep all night because she was thinking about when she could play with her friends whilst Mohammed from Anab Al Kabir “didn’t want to grow old or ever leave.”
Developmental Challenges in Palestine
The absence of Palestinian sovereignty, territorial continuity and integrity, have impeded growth from reaching its full potential. Instability has characterized the politics of the region and is having a deep-rooted impact on its economic growth. Palestine’s economic and social hardship has been deteriorating over the last decade. The difficulty in the movement of goods and people has crippled the Palestinian economy and wellbeing of the Palestinian people. The 2008/2009 war on the Gaza Strip left much of the strip’s infrastructure destroyed, creating a humanitarian crisis.
Dubai Cares Programs in Palestine
At present, Dubai Cares is working with ANERA to improve early childhood care, education and development for children aged 3–6 in remote and disadvantaged communities in Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Dubai Cares has also implemented interventions designed to enable primary schooling and literacy amongst its youngest citizen. As part of the Million Book Challenge, Dubai Cares donated almost 300,000 books to children in schools in the West Bank. “My Arabic Library” sets, produced and developed by Scholastic, combine Arabic-language classroom/school library book sets with customized teacher training on the use of supplementary reading materials.
In addition, to promote and improve the health status of UNRWA’s school children in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Dubai Cares also implemented a deworming campaign for all UNRWA’s School Children in Gaza and the West Bank. In addition, Dubai Cares worked to maintain enrollment of girls and boys in assisted schools at pre-crisis levels through school feeding.
Providing Access to Quality Primary Education
Dubai Cares’ efforts in Palestine reflect the theme of its current “What if …” Ramadan campaign for 2014, which will run throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan to spread awareness about the importance of education, as one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. Through this campaign, Dubai Cares will ask the UAE community to imagine their own children facing the same hurdles that children in developing countries do. What if your daughter walks three kilometers to the nearest school every day. She also has to leave school and walk back home whenever she needs to use the toilet. The campaign also aims to raise funds for improving children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries.