Adnan el Farmali is 18 years old and lives in Akkar, North Lebanon with his parents and six siblings. But it’s not really home. Adnan and his family fled their home in Homs, Syria after Adnan was shot in the back by a sniper while crossing the town bridge to go buy bread for his family. The bullet entered his spine and left him paralyzed.

Adnan was only 13 at the time. “I stayed three weeks in a field hospital, unconscious, and the doctors told my parents if I was lucky enough to wake up I would only be able to open my eyes,” he explains in a matter-of-fact tone. “The doctor said the rest of my body would be completely paralyzed.”

When Adnan finally woke up, he was paralyzed, but only from the waist down. Then, militants on both sides of the conflict began entering the hospital under the pretense of looking for fugitives. Scared of sudden armed attacks on the hospital, Adnan’s parents smuggled him out to Lebanon where they could all live with an uncle in the northern part of the country.

Finding Treatment as a Refugee in Lebanon

After an arduous journey, Adnan and his family arrived in Lebanon. “I was constantly bleeding,” Adnan says. “My parents took me from one hospital to another but they wouldn’t treat me because we had no money.” Finally they found a public hospital in Tripoli where he stayed for two months.

Syrian refugee teen adnan smiling

After years spent healing physically and emotionally, Adnan has found exciting opportunities through ANERA’s education program.

When Adnan left the hospital he couldn’t afford to keep up with his physical therapy and ended up at home for a whole year. “I was extremely sad that year. I locked myself in my room, didn’t even bother to take my medication. I thought about suicide. Everything was collapsing: my dreams, my future, my body, my ability to be independent. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom on my own.”

At 14, Adnan decided to take matters into his own hands and passed exams for grade seven while in Lebanon. Adnan saw it as a major breakthrough, but then discovered he needed to validate the certificate to enter high school in Lebanon. That would mean returning to Syria to obtain the official papers, an impossible mission, he says. “So I dropped the idea of going to high school.”

ANERA Offers Syrian Refugee Teen Educational Opportunities

For the next four years, Adnan stayed home, reading and just hanging out with his cousin at the beach. But his dream of going back to school and becoming an electrical engineer did not fade. One day, while passing an educational center in Akkar, he saw ANERA’s poster encouraging youth to go back to school. It changed his life.

Classes for Syrian refugee teens

Adnan’s classes are accessible and very accommodating to each student’s needs.

ANERA’s innovative non-formal education program is tailored to the critical needs of an under-served target group of more than 11,000 youth, including Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese boys and girls between 14-18 years of age. The skills-training classes are organized with support from UNICEF and focus on teaching critical skills through a flexible study program that includes math, English and Arabic. The goal is to help teens reintegrate into the formal education system or improve their job prospects through skills training.

Under ANERA’s supervision, Adnan took courses in photography, which gave him marketable skills. The best part of the program, Adnan says, is how it accommodates people with disabilities. “The centers are equipped with elevators and classes are organized on the ground floor, where students in wheelchairs don’t have to climb the stairs.” And with ANERA’s support, the supervisor of the educational center offered Adnan a private driver to and from class, using a car with large backbench where he can sit comfortably.

Overcoming Tragedy to Pursue a Dream

“Everything about this program makes me happy,” Adnan says with a broad smile. “It’s accessible, the subjects are interesting and we get to learn useful skills like photography, which has become my passion.”

Adnan has felt the cruelty of war. “Sometimes I asked myself why the sniper picked me and not others.” But now he has rediscovered his excitement and love for education. “Now I thank God I am alive and I can pursue my dream of becoming an engineer.”

Syrian refugee teen Adnan takes photos

While he still hopes to become an engineer one day, Adnan has discovered photography a passion for photography.

Meet more teens in Lebanon pursuing an education>>

My name is Reem Mohammed Abu Jaber. I am the Executive Director of Nawa for Culture and Arts Association and head-teacher at El Hekayat preschool in Deir Al Balah, Gaza. I am 42 years old and have six sisters and two brothers. Yes, we’re a big family but you know something—we are all well educated.

I have a degree in library science and a Masters in strategic planning. I worked for UNRWA’s education department and later as Director of the Qattan Center for Children.

A Dream for Children in Gaza

But in 2012, I decided I needed to take some time off to reflect on my experiences of working with children, especially the children traumatized by war. I needed to find out what I could do to realize my dream of helping children in Gaza through art and culture. So, in 2014 I helped start an NGO, called Nawa for Culture and Arts Association that serves children in the most deprived areas of Gaza. We are working mainly in the Deir Al Balah area.

Why? Because our community has major challenges that have been brought on by the blockade, border closures, inadequate health services, poverty and just plain despair. I can see how hard it is for young people, educators and professionals to develop and learn.

Reema starts preschool for children in Gaza

In 2011, Reem decided to start El Hekayat Preschool in Deir Al Balah, as a project of the Nawa Association

In 2011, I decided to make my personal community contribution to children and parents in Deir Al Balah, so I took the initiative towards establishing El Hekayat school, which means storytelling. It’s what I’m doing right now—telling my story.

We had so many challenges just to survive. Our limited budget makes it hard to equip the school and ensure it’s a healthy place for youngsters. Thanks to ANERA’s help and support, we have renovated the preschool and put in new bathrooms, a lovely play area with a sunroof to protect the children from the Gaza sun.

Healthly Living & Learning Thrive at Hekayat Preschool

I have to tell you one of my major concerns is to make sure the water is clean because our drinking fountain was in decay. Sometimes the water that poured out was yellow and brackish. And then our water tank was destroyed in last year’s war so we had nothing. But now after all the fine work that ANERA did to our school, we can boast access to clean drinking water. That is a major achievement for us, believe me.

ANERA's renovation included a new water tank to replace the one destroyed in the 2014 bombings.

ANERA’s renovation included a new water tank to replace the one destroyed in the 2014 bombings.

We’ve got about 80 children now and it’s such a joy to see them able to learn and develop in a clean, safe environment. ANERA also gave us wonderful educational toys and books, and trained us how to use them in the best possible way.

I am so proud of how we have improved our children’s health and happiness, thanks to ANERA’s early childhood development program. Don’t laugh when I tell you we painted the school a lovely peach color. Yes, we did. And, you know what? We can see already how it brings the children a sense of peace in their chaotic lives. It’s wonderful.

“We can see already how it brings the children a sense of peace in their chaotic lives.”

Oh, and another benefit of our bright, cheerful and healthy environment is that it encourages parents and teachers to come together there. We’ve even started a parents’ club as part of our literacy program so mothers now meet once a week to take part in activities that help them become good educators at home, especially when it comes to encouraging health habits. It has been useful for providing parents with some psychosocial support too.

Children in Gaza have experienced many horrible things, their homes destroyed and relatives killed — but also the effects of years of poverty, inadequate education and health services. But I have seen with my own eyes in our kindergarten how our children can teach us something very important: Given the opportunity, they are always ready to make a new start with energy and enthusiasm. They never hesitate. Working with the children of Gaza inspires us all.

Boy in Gaza washes hands at El Hekayat preschool

A child washes his hands using a new sink with clean running water at El Hekayet Preschool.

Building a Better Life for Tomorrow

We know that life in Gaza is difficult but my colleagues and I have a simple dream: to light a candle of learning inside every child so it will burn bright and guide them for the rest of their lives. We light the candle when we help the children to see the beauty of everything around us. We know it will take many years to see the changes we dream of that’s fine. When we watch our children grow and develop, we can believe our lives will change for the better one day.

I was fortunate to have a good education and I want to share that with the next generation. It’s my dream. You know the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darweesh? He says “There is no sun under the sun, but the light in our hearts.”

We named our organizationl Nawa, which means the seed of the palm tree. The town of Deir Al Balah means “the monastery of palm trees,” so Nawa’s preschool really is the seed for positive change. And, “nawa” also means good intentions, which we have beyond measure because we know this is the way to give children in Gaza a better life for tomorrow.

children in gaza play hekayet preschool

Reem and the Nawa Association dream of a bright future for children in Gaza.

ANERA’s Annual Dinner on October 2, 2015 raises funds for programs like these that support health and well-being. Please join us!

Beit Jala, Palestine View

ANERA in Beit Jala, West Bank

August 25th, 2015 by ANERA

Beit Jala in Aramaic means “green carpet,” a fitting name for a city long known for its abundance of olive trees and fertile lands. Despite the desirable landscape, the people of Beit Jala have faced many difficulties over the years due to poverty, conflict and occupation. When ANERA started working in the town, residents were grappling with a long list of issues:

  • Untreated wastewater threatening public health and the environment
  • Lack of employment opportunities for workers and artisans
  • A dilapidated government hospital
  • No government preschools, and only 5 private kindergartens
  • Lack of equipment to restore land and pursue farming work

Since ANERA first reached out to Beit Jala some 30 years ago, many of these problems have been eased through our sustainable development work in health, education and economic development.

Preserving Beit Jala Agriculture

Beit Jala, Palestine Town ProfileBecause of its reputation for rich farming land, it was no surprise that ANERA’s earliest interventions in Beit Jala in the 1980s were agricultural.

ANERA’s first project helped 750 farmers of the Beit Jala cooperative by providing two tractors and 12 agricultural machines. It was implemented in partnership with 32 cooperatives across the West Bank, originally aimed at maintaining the economic viability of Palestinian agriculture by increasing land efficiency, lowering production costs and generating jobs for the impoverished and unemployed. The project reached more than 4,000 Palestinian farmers and provided them the opportunity to rent the new agricultural machines, some of which were introduced to the region for the first time.

An additional grant was allocated to the Beit Jala Olive Press Cooperative to purchase a bulldozer to facilitate the work of its member farmers. The bulldozer helped clear vast acres of land in preparation for land reclamation. The project was also implemented at six other West Bank cooperatives.

Urban Planning for Economic Development

As agriculture developed, the town itself underwent rapid and often haphazard urban growth. Light industrial shops were sporadically scattered among residential areas in the heart of the city, which resulted in congested streets and noisy residential neighborhoods.

So, the Beit Jala Municipality welcomed ANERA’s proposal of establishing a new light industrial complex on the outskirts of the city to relieve congestion in more populated areas. The complex initially housed 46 work units. Today, the Beit Jala light industry zone houses 57 workshops, which directly benefit hundreds of Palestinians and also contribute to the municipality’s income.

Meet a Blacksmith Working in the Light Industrial Complex

Investing in Health & Hospital Infrastructure

ANERA’s work also encompasses projects aimed at improving public health services and has reached out repeatedly to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR) which helps people with physical, intellectual, or sensory disabilities. For over 20 years, ANERA has provided to BASR dozens of wheelchairs, hearing aids and other supplies including medicines and disposables. The partnership continues to this day, with medical supplies and other aid.

health relief wheelchairs for Beit Jala

A young ANERA wheelchair recipient at BASR.

In 2009 ANERA addressed the dire conditions of Beit Jala Hospital, which was established in 1908 and remained the only government hospital in the entire Bethlehem districtServing 170,000 people in the area, the hospital was in desperate need of a major rehabilitation.

Under the ANERA-implemented Emergency Water & Sanitation & Other Infrastructure Program (EWAS II), and thanks to a generous USAID grant, ANERA succeeded in rehabilitating the hospital’s major sections, including the emergency unit, surgery theaters, the outpatient clinic and x-ray department. The areas were remodeled, the ventilation system overhauled and maintenance improved. The project also created great job opportunities for local workers.

A year later, the EWAS II team was back in Beit Jala to remodel a municipality space to create a mother-child care clinic. The facility includes two examination rooms, a specialists’ room, vaccination unit, laboratory, pharmacy archive room, sanitation units and a storage area.

Beit Jala Hospital Nurses Station 2010

The nurses’ station at Beit Jala hospital, after ANERA’s total renovation of the facility.

Ending Water Pollution in Cremisan

Organizations like BASR and surrounding communities in the Cremisan area of Beit Jala have also benefited from a sewage water network carried out by ANERA, under EWAS II.

Because of the municipality’s limited financial resources, Cremisan was not connected to the main sewage network. Before ANERA’s intervention in 2011, thousands of residents there had suffered from drinking water pollution and sanitary problems caused by wastewater infiltration from the water tanks. ANERA put an end to water-borne illnesses and environmental pollution by installing 4,250 meters of sewage pipelines and connecting them to the Jerusalem sewage network.

Empowering Palestinian Youth and Children

Ahmad Ben Hanbal preschool painting Beit Jala

A child at the renovated Ahmad Ben-Hanbal preschool develops creative and cognitive skills through painting.

In 2009, ANERA reached out to another organization in Beit Jala to help empower the disabled. Through its in-kind program, ANERA delivered 80 wheelchairs to Life Gate, an organization that helps physically disabled, deaf and mute children and youth become productive members of society. The organization offers social, physical and occupational therapy, medical care and various training workshops.

Preschoolers in particular have had a fair share of ANERA’s care and attention too. With the launch of its early childhood development program (ECD) in the West Bank in 2009, ANERA’s team of childhood and education experts have worked tirelessly to transform the lives of young children through:

  • Improving school infrastructure
  • Training teachers in best practices
  • Encouraging emerging literacy skills
  • Expanding expressive arts and activities
  • Educating and involving parents and the wider community in child development

Beit Jala’s Ahmad Ben Hanbal preschool was one of ANERA’s pilot projects, which targeted two preschools in Bethlehem and two in Nablus in 2010. After long days of learning and hard work, Beit Jala children and their families also now enjoy some a fun at the ANERA-constructed family park, known as, Al-Bayyara.

Beit Jala’s Al Bayyara park offers a safe, stimulating space for children and a relaxing fresh-air space for parents to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

My name is Dina Shawwa. I work for Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS). I am 40 years old and I have worked here for 14 years. I prepare all pharmaceutical orders and distribute drugs to all six PMRS clinics. It’s a lot of work but I love it. And, I can feel how much I’ve grown professionally as a pharmacist at PMRS because of all the experiences I’ve had.

One of my biggest challenges was working in a war zone and having to leave my small children at home to go to work and serve my community in such difficult and dangerous times.

It saddens me to say that the health situation in Gaza is so, so very miserable. We lack medical equipment and medicine in particular, but we have no alternatives. What can we do?

We would be so lost without organizations like ANERA, who have been helping for the past eight years to supply us with vital medicines despite three wars and the blockade.

In gaza health crisis Dima stocks shelves

Dima Shawa stocks the shelves of PMRS pharmacy with vital medicines delivered by ANERA.

Help ANERA continue to provide support to clinics like PMRS at our Annual Dinner on October 2. Get your tickets!

We cannot raise our expectations very much at all when faced with all that but the efforts of organizations like ANERA offer us a glimmer of hope.

I only wish we could join hands with private and international institutions to find a sustainable strategy to be prepared to deal with the Gaza health crisis and respond to emergencies. I say this because we don’t believe these emergencies will ever end. But we all hope for better conditions and a robust health care system to meet the needs of our community.

Ahmad Kassem El Jaber is 16 years old. He lives in Ein El Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon. His life is far from easy: he has had multiple sclerosis since the age of three, which affected the nerves in his brain and spinal cord, limiting his muscle movement, balance and vision.

At six, Ahmad entered UNRWA’s school, but it wasn’t fun. He couldn’t take part in any sports activity and it took him a long time just to walk up and down the stairs to class. He faced constant bullying and often spent recess in the principal’s office to avoid the other kids.

“At school, kids used to hit me and run, knowing that I couldn’t follow them with my crutches. I was full of anger, disappointment, shame. I went home and cried my heart out. I told my parents I wanted to leave school.” Ahmad was only eight years old at the time. His parents tried to persuade him to go to school but he just wanted to stay home and hide.

Eventually he dropped out of school. “My health deteriorated,” he continues. “I went from crutches to a wheel chair and my feet were getting weaker so going to school or doing anything was mission impossible.”

Ahmad didn’t want to be a financial burden to his family so at 14 he joined a vocational training course. “I was doing well, but I needed to go to the bathroom a lot and the teacher didn’t help or understand my condition, so I left and didn’t go back.”

classes for refugees in lebanon: ahmad and brother

Now that Ahmad, shown here with his younfer brother, is attending ANERA’s non-formal education classes, he is determined to succeed.

ANERA’s Classes for Refugee Youth in Lebanon Open Doors

Ahmad’s life took a turn for the better when a social worker from the community organization Najdeh Association told his mother about a new program, designed by UNICEF and implemented by ANERA, to provide classes for refugee youth in Lebanon. The program works with teens who have dropped out of school for a variety of reasons, including health problems.

ANERA’s innovative refugee non-formal education model is tailored to the needs of a target group of some 5,000 underserved Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese boys and girls between 14-18 years of age. The program, which operates in both northern and southern Lebanon with support from UNICEF, teaches critical skills through a flexible study program focused on math, English and Arabic. The program also helps reintegrate youth into the formal education system and improves job prospects through transferable and vocational skills training.

“Now I know I will have the skills to earn a living, and I will save money, have my own family and raise my children to be happy and strong…”

Under ANERA’s supervision, Ahmad was persuaded to join the courses, which are designed to be inclusive for all students. including children with disabilities. Centers are equipped with elevators or classes are organized on the ground floor. When Ahmad arrived for class he saw one important benefit: no stairs. It was easy for him to get to class. And the courses did not exceed three hours so he could return to the privacy of his own home to use the bathroom, which had always been a challenge at school.

Ahmad Becomes Determined to Succeed in School

Two weeks after class began, Ahmad had surgery on his legs to help him to walk. But he is determined now to return to school. “I love the teachers and made some new friends, because we all realized we come from the same background and shared the same experience — dropping out of school,” he explains. “But here nobody judges anyone for that. We all have been victims of circumstance.” Ahmad is determined to finish the course and find a job to be independent and less of a financial burden to his family.

Ahmad admits he used to wish he would just die, but not anymore. “Now I know I will have the skills to earn a living, and I will save money, have my own family and raise my children to be happy and strong and not let anyone stop them from doing whatever it takes to be independent and successful.”