Wafa’a Shihda is a 13-year-old student at UNRWA’s Al-Aqrabania school. The school exemplifies UNRWA’s efforts to ensure access to education for Palestine refugees living in the West Bank. Though the school in Al-Aqrabania is co-ed, it has been particularly important for girls living in the village and surrounding area.
Social norms mean that girls face more constraints on their freedom of movement. This has been compounded by the presence of Israeli army checkpoints in the Jordan Valley. These mean that many families choose to keep their daughters at home.
Even though the UNRWA school is closest to Wafa’a’s home, she still has to walk eight kilometres a day to get to school. However, Wafa’a feels that the effort is worth it and says that the school is her second home.
She particularly enjoys learning about human rights. Wafa’a said: “I like my classes and have been taught about equality, human rights and duties. Studying here has improved my communication skills and self-confidence and I could not imagine my life without this school.”
Long distances between homes and schools, as well as the high cost and lack of transportation have also contributed to girls like Wafa’a having less access to education. The school in Al-Aqrabania gives these girls the opportunity to get a basic education and has helped more and more girls from the area continue onto higher education and eventually get good jobs.
Nijood Balawani is one of the women who has benefited from attending Al-Aqrabania school. Nijood received her basic education in Al-Aqrabania school and was then encouraged to continue onto secondary and university education. After attaining an MA in school management, Nijood is now back teaching at her old school and hoping to inspire more young girls to pursue their education.
Nijood says: “Having an UNRWA school in Al-Aqrabania has enabled many women in this part of the West Bank to overcome difficulties and get a solid education. I’m glad that I and the girls I teach have had the opportunity to learn and make a better future for ourselves and our families.”