High-achieving teacher inspires young refugees

01 March 2011

March 2011
Wavel refugee camp, Lebanon

Palestinian refugee Manal Zaher is explaining the puzzling world of basic maths to her students. Eight-year-old Riham adds and subtracts using her fingers. Khalid on the other side of the table peeks at Omar’s worksheet trying to figure out the answers.

Manal, 22, is one of the youngest women in Wavel refugee camp to earn a postgraduate degree abroad. Now she is back at the camp, determined to give back to her community and inspire Wavel’s young refugees.

Pupils in her fourth-grade class at Tibaria Elementary School are part of a new learning support programme. The project supports teachers who do not often get time to focus on the individual needs of their students.

Extra motivation

James Stockstill, EU project coordinator, says: "We see that most academic problems begin to show at the grade 3 level, where approximately 30 per cent of students need learning support. This number rises dramatically starting at the grade 4 level.”

Manal says: “These students are not necessarily weak in their studies. Some of them require motivation and inspiration to take their studies or their education seriously. To help them realise the purpose in what they are doing and to take the opportunity to make the best out of it.”

Samah Karzon, 14, studying at Qastal Secondary School in Wavel Camp, was listed to take a support class in biology but insisted on being included in maths as well. She loves the benefits she gets from her classes with Manal.


“I am interacting more in class and I feel more confident about my skills," says Samah, adding that it is helpful for her since she is the eldest child and both her parents only finished elementary education.

"It’s difficult for them to help me with school. It’s my first term in the programme and so far it’s been rewarding,” she said with excitement.

Manal‘s mother also only managed to complete her elementary education before getting married, so she always instilled a desire for education in her children.


“I am always keen to see my children dedicated to education. Manal has a strong character and it makes me proud to see her successful in her life,” she said.

Manal was a recipient of a full scholarship from the Hope Fund, the first time the organisation fully funded a student. She earned a degree in biology and maths, and continued her graduate education in maths at Bryn Mawr College in America.

She even managed to arrange for unwanted lab equipments from her university in America to be shipped to UNRWA schools in Beqa’a. At the end of 2011, Manal will start a PhD programme in Saudi Arabia affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.

Through the generous support of the European Union, and with additional assistance from UNICEF, UNRWA’s learning support programme provides schools, teachers and students with extra resources to help them reach their goals.

More Refugee women tell their stories: here

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