13 March 2012
Khan Al Ahmar, West Bank
The dusty land surrounding the four classrooms was filled with the shrieks of happy children as they clambered over multicoloured parachutes and battled over hula hoops – a welcome relief from the constant state of uncertainty that defines the mood of both the children and teachers at Khan Al Ahmar primary school. On 8 February 2012, Right to Play and UNRWA visited the West Bank school to deliver some special mail from abroad.
The school, serving the Bedouin children of the Jahalin tribe, has been under threat of demolition since its construction in 2009. Although the students previously attended UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem, the construction of the West Bank Barrier forced them to attend classes in a refugee camp in Jericho, over 15 kilometres away. The journey was dangerous, forcing young children to wait on busy highways for buses, and concerned parents stopped sending their children to school altogether. To meet their education needs, an architect from the Italian NGO Vento di Terra led the construction of Khan Al Ahmar primary school, built entirely from mud and rubber tires.
Constructed within Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, a demolition order was soon issued for the school by Israeli authorities. While an Israeli high court hearing has suspended the planned demolition, the future of the school is still in question. Forty per cent of the 755 Palestinians forcibly displaced in 2011 were Bedouin, so there is little trust here for promises, and hope is diminishing as a consequence.
Upon hearing about the threats to Khan Al Ahmar, a school in the United States sprung into action. The students of Our Lady of the Assumption School in California wrote letters of support, reassuring their pen pals and providing them with moral support. Right to Play and UNRWA delivered these letters to the children of Khan Al Ahmar in February, and videotaped their reactions to send back to their American friends some 12,000 kilometres away.
The relationship between the schools looks set to strengthen and grow. Our Lady of the Assumption has already raised the funds necessary to purchase a microscope for Khan Al Ahmar.
Through initiatives such as this, Right to Play gives children a chance to become constructive participants in society, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, social background or religion. Through games and sports, they help create social change in communities affected by war, poverty and disease.
Right To Play introduced its programs in the occupied Palestinian territory (West Bank and Gaza) in late 2003. By working in the most marginalised communities, Right To Play delivers programs that promote healthy and holistic development and teach critical life skills to children and youth, aiming to benefit children throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Through the implementation of specially designed sport and play–based learning activities, Right To Play programs not only contribute to physical fitness, but also enhance the psychological and mental capacities of children, youth and adults who suffer from the effects of conflict and poverty.
Responsible for the welfare of Palestine refugees, UNRWA delivers education and other programmes for refugee children throughout the occupied Palestinian territory and across its five fields of operation. As the majority of Bedouin living in the West Bank are Palestine refugees, protection of these communities from demolitions and displacement has become an increasing concern for the Agency. UNRWA calls on Israeli authorities to abide by international law and to cease demolitions of Palestinian homes, schools, and other structures throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.
American Friends of UNRWA (AFU) is an independent, non-profit organisation that provides support for the humanitarian work of the UNRWA through advocacy, fundraising and education. AFU aims to educate the general American public about the situation of Palestine refugees and generate support for UNRWA’s programmes in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. US taxpayers are eligible for tax deductions for donations made through American Friends of UNRWA.
To learn more about the work of American Friends of UNRWA, visit AFU’s website.