24 September 2013
When she started working as an attendant at the Qalqiliya Boys' Basic School, 64-year-old Sharifah Mohammad Ahmad Ali Mansour didn't know her life was about to change. She was alone tending her family’s farm following the death of her parents, and she thought that the position was just three months of employment through the Job Creation Programme of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
One day, in the fall of 2012, the principal asked Sharifah to deliver an attendance sheet to a classroom, and she replied, "I don't know what this page says, let alone which room to deliver it to." Upon hearing this, the principal, Amal Ahmad Hussein Hassanein, offered Sharifah the chance to study alongside the other students.
Sharifah's initial goal was to write her name and learn some basic mathematics. However, her first-grade teacher, Wael Ibrahim, encouraged her to continue, even helping secure a laptop for her. Her favourite program reads Quranic verses aloud; by following along, she has greatly increased her reading ability. "By the time she graduated from my class," Mr Ibrahim says, "she was able to read parts of the Holy Quran and had a firm command of basic mathematics."
Now that Sharifah has started the second grade, her new teacher, Mirvet Adnan Mohammad Hilal, is equally pleased. Sharifah's energy and enthusiasm are infectious, allowing her to build relationships with her fellow students, Ms Hilal says. “I have been tempted to move her away from her good friend Mehdi, because they are constantly exchanging tips and coaching each other on the day's lessons!"
Sharifah explains the impact of her new education in concrete terms. Before, when she went to the store, she depended on shopkeepers to give her correct change. "I did not know how to do addition or subtraction. But now I can read street signs and calculate my bills. I am confident when I go out, because I know that I can find my way around, read documents and calculate my bills wherever I go. My life has been enriched," she concludes.
Sharifah says that the generosity and support of the administration and teachers at Qalqiliya – like Mr Ibrahim, who continues to follow up with her – made this opportunity possible. Ms Hassanein, the principal, explains that they are proud to do so. She says, “We will continue to provide Sharifah with the tools she needs to continue her journey.”