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Ensuring UNRWA inclusive education in the West Bank with the Support of Education Cannot Wait: Ali, a Palestine refugee child living with disabilities dreams to become a doctor
It is one of January’s coldest days in Jalazone refugee camp, located a few kilometres north of Ramallah in the West Bank. Despite torrential rains pouring down on the UNRWA Jalazone School, the gloomy weather does not stop the laughter inside a colourful green and yellow classroom. In the first-grade class, Ali and his classmates are sitting together colouring their favourite sketchbooks. Ali Arabdeh is a seven-year-old Palestine refugee student with movement disabilities from Jalazone refugee camp. Ali loves studying English and has big plans for his future.
“My favorite hobby is to memorize the names of the medicines. When I grow up, I want to study to become a doctor!” said Ali.
To help address some apprehensions, Mr. Mostafa, the Jalazone Basic Boys’ Schools principal, reassured Ali’s mother that the school and its team, including school counsellors, would support Ali. “Things were quite difficult at the beginning,” says Ruba, “but I feel very satisfied with the steps taken by his teachers and the school. They make sure Ali has the same opportunities as his classmates.”
“Things were quite difficult at the beginning, but I feel very satisfied with the steps taken to make sure Ali has the same opportunities as his classmates,” says Ruba, Ali’s mother. © 2022 UNRWA Photo by Lucrezia Vittori
The Jalazone Basic Boys’ School is one of 19 UNRWA schools supported by the ECW- Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) for the State of Palestine. The ECW Programme aims to support and provide access to inclusive quality and safe education opportunities for conflict-affected children and youth living in the West Bank and Gaza. Through this project, UNRWA West Bank targeted 19 schools (located in H2 areas, Area C areas, and East Jerusalem), with 7,724 children benefitting from the project.
With the generous support from ECW, the Jalazone Basic Boys’ School conducted maintenance work in 29 classrooms, purchased essential furniture and equipment and built colored interactive rooms, such as Ali’s classroom. These are a great learning aid for teachers to break away from the typical classroom environment. They now lead learning through play activities. These classrooms are also far more accessible to students with disabilities than the attached and immovable chairs and desks with benches that are common in UNRWA classrooms. The new furniture allows students like Ali to participate in activities alongside their classmates. He loves these interactive rooms, “I can sit next to my friend Ameer. Our table is blue and sometimes we can sit at the yellow table together too!” he exclaimed. ”
Programmes such as Education Cannot Wait are essential for the Agency’s key goal to implement rights-based, quality, inclusive educational approach within its schools. Programmes like this ensure that principals, teachers, and counsellors can provide basic services and additional support needed to realize the potential of every Palestine refugee student. UNRWA aims to achieve this by improving classroom practices through inclusive language and positive behaviours.
Ali’s first-grade classmates have been able to fully include him in all their activities at a very young age, leading to supportive relationships with of his classmates. “One of my favourite moments is playtime. My friends go running on the playground and I run with them,” says Ali happily. “He loves it because his friends take him around the playground with his wheelchair so they can play together,” adds Ali’s mother.
To ensure that students with disabilities can strive to achieve their full potential, the Agency’s Inclusive Education Strategy seeks to provide students with social and psychosocial support. Thanks to the ECW’s support, UNRWA has been able to recruit psychosocial counsellors to implement this strategy. This was particularly successful in Ali’s case, as the school psychosocial counsellor supported him and ensured his full inclusion in social activities. This inclusion was essential to Ali as he is a very sociable child, who communicates with other students, no matter their age.
Being a young refugee student with disabilities does not come without its challenges. Even though the school managed to provide Ali with a wheelchair and with a special room, it is not yet equipped to be fully accessible to students living with disabilities. Since the school lacks elevators and accessible emergency exits - both essential to Ali - additional support will be needed to strengthen Ali’s access to education.
Ali’s story is a great lesson on how support for inclusive and equitable education can help transform our societies. Manar Basharat, Camp Services Officer of Jalazone refugee camp, is sure that Ali is already leading great transformations within the Jalazone refugee camp:
“Thanks to Ali, 600 students at these schools are now able to acknowledge that students with disabilities can study, communicate, and be with their peers just like anyone else,” she noted with pride. “Ali has given us an opportunity. I believe that by assisting Ali from first grade onwards, we can support him all the way to college so that he can become the famous doctor he dreams of becoming,”said Manar.
This feature was developed by UNRWA with the support of the Education Cannot Wait, the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies.
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