Remedial education helps millions of Palestinian children
By Anna Ceraldi
AZZUNE ATMA, 27 January 2006 - The remote northern West Bank community of Azzun Atma is home to 1,000 Palestinians, many of them children. There is only one school to service the close to 400 students from the village and surrounding area.
Inside the school grounds, many of the modern touches headmistress Jamileh Sarsour brought home from a recent tour of San Francisco schools are evident. Colourful English language collages decorate the halls and classrooms. The space is clean and orderly.
But outside the school grounds, you don’t have too stroll far to find evidence of the daily struggle to get an education in Azzun Atma.
Since a military gate was installed at the bottom of the school hill two years ago, on any given day some of the children, as young as six years old, and most of the two dozen teachers have been either held up or denied access entirely to the village. Classes have been delayed and in some cases cancelled, forcing the headmistress to send students home.
All movement in and out of Azzun Atma is monitored by the gate patrol and under the watchful of the neighboring Israeli settlement, a mere 500 meters away.
The two communities share the same water and electrical systems but according to Ms. Sarsour, that’s where the similarities end. “They are free and we are in prison.”
She recalls many days when only a few teachers made it through the gates.
“How can I work with 370 students with 23 teachers they can’t come? I’m frustrated. I became very sad”
For the past three years, the headmistress has been working with UNICEF to help ensure children continue learning, even in the shadow of ongoing school closures and disruptions.
Thousands of teachers and parents throughout the West Bank and
For the parents, the project is doing more than helping to educate their children - it’s empowering an entire community.
As parent Intisar Taher says: “They became stronger and their knowledge has increased. It has opened their minds.”
Since the program’s inception in 2000 – more than three quarters of a million students throughout the West Bank and
Eleven-year-old Soundous Maher has been using the worksheets at home for the past three years.
Her step-mother Ramia Abed Alfatah says the parent training she received was invaluable in helping Soundos reach a 96-percent average, second in her class.
“I help her to study. I know what her needs are at school and I can help her.”
The fifth grader plans to become a pediatrician one day.
UNICEF and the Canadian government have also worked with the community to provide the school with clean drinking water and to improve sanitation.