Anas, a handsome four-year-old from Syria, giggles with delight at the changes he sees in his preschool in Burj El Barajneh camp.

Two Preschools in Lebanon Camps Transformed

January 6th, 2015 by ANERA

In two of Lebanon’s refugee camps, where residents have grown accustomed to the sounds of violence and despair, there is a new and welcome noise: the giggles of children in a newly renovated preschool.

ANERA’s renovations of two kindergartens in Burj El Barajneh and Ein El Helweh camps were made possible through a grant from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) for early childhood education and emergency response for refugees from Syria. The preschools, already overcrowded before the influx of refugees, are now hosts to a large number of Palestinian refugee children from Syria. Both schools were in dire need of repairs and upgrades to provide a safe environment for the children and help them cope with the new arrivals.

As the Syrian crisis ends its third year, the impact of the refugee influx has put serious strains on early childhood development programs in the refugee camps. Most schools are privately run and lack sufficient funding to respond to the refugee crisis, which has dramatically increased the number of school-age children in the camps.

The children at the Burj El Barajneh preschool love interacting with their teacher while playing with the new toys ANERA brought to their school.

The children at the Burj El Barajneh preschool love interacting with their teacher while playing with the new toys ANERA brought to their school.

ANERA Applies Early Childhood Development Quality Standards

Following ANERA’s quality standards, the preschool renovations include security features and other measures to promote good hygiene, interactive learning  and access to safe, quality education. “The windows and roofs have been sealed against bad weather. Electricity has been upgraded, classrooms painted,  and bathrooms were renovated to be more child-sized and sanitary. We also updated playgrounds and installed new equipment to make the preschools a safer environment for children, ” explains Nadine Abdallah, ANERA public health educator. “The schools were also equipped with toys, furniture and books. These items were chosen carefully by education specialists to promote innovative and interactive learning methodologies.”

…their time at preschool  can give them some sense of normalcy…

“There’s increasing evidence that refugee children gain a lot from going to preschool,” says Zeinat Farhoud, educator at the newly renovated Najdeh Preschool in Ein El Helweh Camp in southern Lebanon. “Besides being exposed to numbers and letters, they also learn to socialize, to get along with other children, to share and engage with those around them. In the community that we serve, with all the disruptions in their lives, their time at preschool can give them some sense of normalcy. This is especially true of the children who have fled the violence in Syria.”

Parents also welcome the new and exciting materials that are inspiring the teachers and engaging their children’s senses. “They teach our children through storytelling and games, which make learning fun,” says Intisar, mother of one preschooler. She smiles with pride, “My child was capable of writing his name and all the letters of the Arabic alphabet at age four!”

Before & After

Drag the arrows to reveal the images.

These newly renovated preschools offer early childhood education for hundreds of children from both camps, 30% of whom are refugees from Syria (both Palestinian and Syrian).

Principal El-Bohesy opening the new pink door of her Gaza preschool to welcome her 67 students.

Gaza Preschool in Deir Al Balah is Renovated

December 30th, 2014 by ANERA

When Principal Reem El-Bohesy opened the new pink door of her Gaza preschool to welcome her 67 students, she noticed that they were unusually excited. “I wasn’t sure what was happening. I asked myself, is this because of the new pink door or do my wonderful children have a surprise waiting for me?” For Reem, little jokes provide a small break from the toughness of life in Gaza. “I love children. When I see them in the morning my spirits are lifted. I wish I could stay with them for the rest of my life,” she added.

“Children represent life, love and innocence,” she said.

Gaza Preschool Safety

Reem’s main concern was the outdated and tattered canopy covering the playground, and the hazards it posed to the children. “We had old sheets covering the playground. Cords were falling from the sides and sometimes the children would try to swing on them. We needed eyes in the back of our heads to keep them safe,” she said.

In the 2014 war, the school’s water storage tank was bombed.

Providing clean water to the children was another one of her concerns. “We had a dilapidated water fountain, and our taps weren’t any better. Sometimes, yellow water would pour out of them.” The water problem was made worse during the recent Gaza war when the preschool’s main water storage tank was bombed.

All of Reem’s worries faded when she learned that ANERA was going to renovate the preschool. “It felt great to know that finally our tears would be wiped away and these problems fixed,” she said.

Thanks to funding from Dubai Cares, the children at Hekayat Preschool are now enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of the freshly painted preschool. They walked in line as a human train to take a tour of the new preschool. They first visited the classrooms, then the water fountains, took a little peak at the bathrooms, and finally stopped at the play area where they decided to spend the rest of the day. “I love the way they are talking about all the details they notice and are asking lots of questions about what’s been done,” said Reem.

Now that the playground area is covered and protected, she does not need to worry in the summer or winter about the children being cramped indoors. “I want them to grow up to be healthy and well,” Reem declared.

Before & After of Gaza Preschool Playground

 

Hekayat preschoolers are also taking part in ANERA’s post-war, one-month program that provided reached more than 2,000 children at 15 preschools in Gaza. To help them cope with the after-effects of the things they experienced during the war, the kids engaged in activities like art for therapy, music, puppets, drama and games at their newly renovated preschool.

Manale in her office at the Nahr El Bared Women's Program Center in northern Lebanon.

Meet an Inspiring Woman from Nahr El Bared

December 10th, 2014 by ANERA

In 2002, Manale Hamid Abdel Al Aal, joined a women’s program in Nahr El Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Like other women in the camp, she wanted to take sewing classes to earn some income and help support her family.

Right from the start it was clear that Manale had a great talent for designing sophisticated clothing and for teaching. Her newly uncovered talents quickly opened up opportunities for her to teach at Nahr El Bared’s Women’s Program Center. “As women, sewing is the best thing to learn if we want to support our families and make a living,” says Manale.

She didn’t stop there. Soon she was appointed to the Center’s board of managers and took on even more responsibilities, from fundraising to implementing curricula and developing programs. Manale began recruiting students and empowering women like herself.

Rebuilding Life in Nahr El Bared

Then came the 2007 battle between extremists hiding in the camp and Lebanese security forces. Most everyone in the camp was forced to flee the violence and destruction. Manale and her family were among those who found refuge in Beddawi camp near Tripoli.

“When and how do we start again?”

Settled in Beddawi camp, Manale found she could not remain idle. So she joined the Women’s Program Center in that camp and volunteered to distribute necessities to her fellow newcomers. Five months later, she returned to Nahr El Bared to find her house, the women’s center, her neighborhood and everything else around her demolished. The shocking scenery paralyzed her, but not for long. She says she did not stop to ask why. She just asked, “When and how do we start again?”

Manale says she used to blame her grandfather for leaving Palestine and coming to live as a lifelong refugee in Lebanon. Then she found the tables turned on her. “I was afraid not to come back to the camp,” she declared. “My family might have blamed me, this time, for turning them into refugees yet again.”

She borrowed 25 plastic chairs, rented small space that had not been damaged, and called psychologists from Beddawi camp to help her organize a psychosocial support group for the camp’s women. She says once most everyone was healed it was time to rebuild the women’s center.

Pastry students work on a cake at the Women's Program Center in Nahr El Bared.

Pastry students work on a cake at the Women’s Program Center in Nahr El Bared.

She reopened the center in 2008 and relaunched sewing courses for women. This time she added other classes aimed at producing traditional Arabian furniture needed in houses destroyed by the war. She also got funds from the Swiss Embassy to start a pastry class. The first women graduates entered the job market within six months. Based on her early success and with funding from ANERA, Manale now conducts regular vocational training classes in pastry-making.

When you ask her where her hope and resilience come from, Manale smiles and simply says, “We are Palestinians. We can teach the world what hope and resilience mean.”

There are few open spaces in the West Bank where kids can play safely. Most communities have no public parks. Even cities like Al Bireh or Ramallah have few open spaces or parks where families can gather.

For Al Bireh, that reality has changed, thanks to the newest Al Bayyara park that opened there in November. In partnership with local municipalities, the Bank of Palestine and private donors, ANERA has changed the landscape in West Bank communities by turning empty rubble-filled plots into beautifully landscaped public parks with shaded benches and playgrounds. Al Bayyara means orange grove in Arabic.

Each park creates jobs for local construction workers and craftsmen in villages that suffer from unemployment and economic hardships.

Shiraz Abu Mas’oud is a mother of two girls and two boys aged 2 to 13. She says her children, young and old, were excited when she announced they were all going to the new park. “I took them all because it suits all ages,” says Shiraz.

Shiraz says the park has already encouraged her neighbors to build a better sense of community and cooperation. Shiraz and other mothers in the neighborhood have discussed contributing to the park as a community to add new games and benches after a guard is appointed by the municipality.

They have also thought of ways to keep it clean. Shiraz’s 10-year-old son Mufid and 13- year-old daughter Razan both want to encourage other kids who use the park to help keep it clean. Mufid says he loves the swings the best and is looking forward to enjoying them with his school friends.

Children love the swings in the new playground ANERA just opened in Al Bireh, West Bank.Mufid and Razan go to the same school in the West Bank and feel like the park is a pleasant extension of their classroom. “We sometimes take classes out here and it’s quite fun,” says Razan.

Vivian Sulieman is Mufid and Razan’s science teacher in the elementary school across the street from the park. She has worked as a teacher for 18 years and believes in contemporary education and the need for children to learn in different stimulating environments. “I am a mother myself and I know how difficult it is for parents to find time during the day to take the kids out for a fun activity or some fresh air, especially when there are no parks around. I believe that taking students outside the classroom has a terrific, positive effect on them.”

Recently, Vivian says she brought her older students out to the park where she taught a class on healthy eating and nutrition. “I thought the kids needed a change of scenery and something to reenergize them.” Vivian knows that some students get bored and lose interest when they’re sitting all day inside. “So this is a good way to unleash their creativity and imagination,” she says. “They love being outside in nature.”

Shiraz and her neighbors love seeing their children interact and converse with other kids at their school or at the park. She believes such parks deepen their sense of belonging to the community. “My older children are ambitious and long to be part of a positive change in their school and in their community,” she proudly explains.New playground equipment, like this slide, is a favorite feature in the Al Bayyara park just opened in Al Bireh, West Bank.

 

Mahmoud lives in a small village that has been surrounded by the Israeli security wall.

My Grandmother is as Patient as a Cactus

December 5th, 2014 by ANERA

Meet Halima Hamdan from Al-Khasa village in East Bethlehem

by Mahmoud Hmida, Halima’s 24-year-old grandson

110, that’s how old my grandmother is. She encapsulates our entire family history and, really, our whole village’s history too. Her name, “Halima,” means “patient,” and that certainly describes her exactly.

We are Bedouins. Life was very harsh for Halima growing up. They had so little of everything compared to our times, yet their lives were richer than ours. They barely owned anything, yet they had all the time in the world. They lived in small raggedy tents, yet all the land that stretched before their eyes was their home. They slept in the bareness of nature, yet their eyes and hearts knew no fear or insecurity.

Halima-Hamdan-Bethlehem-Woman

The marks on Halima’s face are tattoos, with which Bedouins used to embellish themselves on happy occasions.

Today my town is sleepless. Our hearts are heavy with burdens. They ache for our stolen lands. Our children live in horror. Our young men are targeted. And I sometimes think that my grandmother is better off with having dementia, I wouldn’t want her to shed tears over her lost land, or stare at the ‘apartheid’ wall with sorrow in her heart.

Starting in 2002 we felt the pressure of Israeli occupation creeping in and crushing us for the first time. It all began with a military checkpoint that prevented us from exiting the area whenever we wished, and kept us far away from Jerusalem.

But the real heartache came soon after with the building of a nasty wall that isolated us from our own lands. Today I look out my window and see the checkpoint and barbed wires surrounding us. To people like us, our land is life itself. It is our bread and butter, our sweat and blood.

Halima suffers from hypertension and diabetes. Nurses from a nearby clinic visit her regularly. The clinic receives shipments of donated health care supplies and medicines from ANERA, and Halima has been able to take advantage of a whole range of free medicines.

The people whose hearts ache the most are the elderly, like my grandmother. You can consider her as a personification of the land, for they are one and the same. She suckled from the land’s bounty as a child, and in turn, she nurtured the land as she would her own children. She walked with it and sang to it every day. They conversed every day with shared language. As they grow older they resemble each other more and more. Now, when I look at my grandmother’s wrinkles, I see our land.

I remember as a child I listened to her stories from her childhood and youth. She used to fetch water twice a day from a nearby village and carry it in a pottery jar on her head. They were so poor they could not afford a donkey to help them with the water. Owning a donkey to them back then would be like owning a Ferrari now.

But they used to cooperate to get things done. Community was family to them, so they used to take care of one another, and offer a helping hand to anyone in need, although they were all poor. They mourned and celebrated together.

My grandmother was a breadwinner, and was bursting with energy and strength. Even in her nineties, she would walk past the checkpoint to a nearby village to sell her vegetables and dairy products.

That’s actually how she broke her leg eight years ago. Ever since that accident, she has not been able to walk. She lies flat on her back most of the day now and can barely move a limb. Even though she has lost her memory, she still asks for her children.

My grandmother has the tenderest heart. She used to shower us with her affection and love.

West Bank Olive TreeI know I’ll never forget the morning smell of her freshly baked taboun [flatbread] that she was so good at making. I’ll also never forget the olive picking season and how we all used to gather to help her and my grandfather with the harvest and olive oil. I can still taste her minty tea in the shade of an olive tree, and hear her sing traditional harvest songs.

My grandmother’s patience resembles that of a cactus. Her strength is like an ancient olive tree and her delicate soul is a wild poppy; so simple, fragile and beautiful.