“I like reading a lot, it is the only thing that can take me to other worlds. When my family goes out and I cannot join them, I don’t need my mother to stay with me at home, I only ask her to give me a book. While reading, I feel like getting out of my body and travelling to every places of the story,” says Zena, a bright-eyed ten-year-old girl attending the UNRWA Maen Elementary Girls School in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, revealing her love for literature.
In spite of her near-total paralysis, Zena embodies determination and leadership, which allow her to overcome the boundaries of the narrow spaces imposed by her disability. Endowed with a sharp mind, her parents registered her at school, where she was instantly welcome by students and teachers who facilitated her integration. “From her first days at school, everyone noticed her intelligence and eagerness to learn. In spite of many surgeries she has endured so far, nothing stops her from achieving her goal. Zena is always determined to sit for exams and she always gets excellent grades,” her school principal, Salwa Al-Farra, points out.
Zena participates in several initiatives and represents her school in many events, including local competitions. She also successfully participated in a reading challenge. The school principal calls Zena a “hope creator” for the school. She helps students with low academic achievement with back-up lessons: “Zena is one of the most active students in the school and no one can ignore her influence on her class mates. All of them love her. She generates hope and is a living example of how a strong will can be a weapon to beat disability, no matter how hard it is.”
When Zena speaks, she is full of hope and ambition for the future, as she wants to become an English teacher. She says that her best moments at school are when she is amongst her teachers and friends or when she reads a book that enriches her with new experiences: “I never feel weak when I see my brothers and sisters playing and running because I can read. My classmates help me by bringing books to class and lending me their books to read,”she says.
The UNRWA Maen Elementary Girls School is one of 5 schools in Gaza adopted for the 2017-2018 scholastic year by the government of UAE under the supervision of Dubai Cares, giving Zena and other Palestine refugee students in Gaza the tools to overcome the difficult challenges in their lives, providing a ray of hope for a brighter future.
In 2017 the United Arab Emirates contributed USD 15 million to support access to quality education projects for refugee students in Gaza. This includes USD 11 million for 'Safeguarding of Rights to Education for Palestine Refugee Children in Gaza' and a USD 3.84 project overseen by Dubai Cares for the adoption of 5 schools. These projects ensure access to quality education to more than 21,000 students in 19 schools in the Gaza Strip during the Academic Year 2017-2018.