“It’s like heaven in the ruins.”

That’s how Gaza preschool teacher Boshra Hamad described her feelings when she saw her preschool that ANERA rebuilt after the Gaza war of 2014.  Amjad preschool had been destroyed during the war, like the neighborhood around it in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. Some 150 preschool children were left without a safe place to take refuge or recapture some normalcy in their lives.

“Rubble was everywhere and nobody could believe that the pile of wreckage that was the preschool could come alive again,” says Boshra.

But as soon as the bombs stopped falling, ANERA partnered with other educational institutions to organize a psychosocial gathering in a vacant plot of land next to the school ruins so children could get together, play and express their emotions through drawings, songs, therapeutic arts and storytelling. “In their drawings, they showed peaceful homes, playgrounds and a new preschool,” she said.

Life in Gaza is intense, Boshra says, where pain and suffering runs deep, so any bit pleasure is something to grab onto. That moment of pleasure came for the children of Amjad preschool. Thanks to funds from the Ajram Family Foundation, the government of Kuwait, and private donors, after 45 days of hard work and dedication, ANERA was able to rebuild the preschool and make their dreams come true.

As Boshra looked through the old photographs of the preschool before the reconstruction, she said parents now call it “Amjad mansion” and are eager to enroll their children in the new facility.

View before and after photos of Amjad preschool by dragging the slider below:

 

Restoring Normalcy for Gaza Children Traumatized by War

Little Raneen celebrated the reopening of the school in her brand new dress that blended with the bright colors of her new classroom. Still, it has been hard to get Raneen to smile since the war. She became introverted and now fears any loud sounds. She and her family had to flee their home in Beit Hanoun, creeping along the walls of other buildings to avoid getting hit by bombs or shrapnel.  After the fighting stopped, and she saw her preschool had been destroyed too, she hardly spoke.

Like so many other children, she was afraid to go outside. Initially, her teachers managed through drawing sessions to get her talk again and join group activities. “Making her smile was really tough. Once she saw the new preschool, it’s impressive how big a smile she now has at last,” said her teacher.

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Raneen sits in her new classroom, smiling in her new dress. In the inset photo, Raneen stands in front of the ruined preschool during ANERA’s psychosocial sessions directly following the war.

On the day of the preschool inauguration, the children turned it into a festive ceremony. They sent love messages to show how delighted they are with the new safe building.

“The best part is that we are gathering inside a lovely preschool and our children will hold onto these memories,” added Boshra. “I am certain our new preschool is planting hope in these little hearts.”

The Amjad preschool has been built with all the ANERA’s standard early childhood development facilities, including five classrooms, administration room and sanitation facilities, in addition to a large playground and a shaded area outdoors. The preschool is equipped and furnished properly to create a child-friendly environment.

See more photos from the new preschool!

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At the preschool's inauguration, ANERA President Bill Corcoran and Country Director Paul Butler shared in the celebration. The children send their love to ANERA's supporters.

Teacher Boshra Hamad is all smiles with some of her students in the new preschool.

Kids wash their hands in the sink in the sparkling clean bathroom. Health and hygiene are important aspects of early childhood development.

ANERA spent two months reconstructing the preschool and painting and furnishing it in vibrant colors.

One of the preschool classrooms, furnished with bright blue desks and orange chairs.

The reconstruction included a brand new playground with safe, child-friendly equipment.

The preschoolers play on their cool new playground toy.

From the playground outside the preschool, children wave goodbye.

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In its fifth year, the Syrian crisis continues to devastate the lives of more than 1.2 million refugees who have sought safety in Lebanon, often in the country’s poorest areas. About 12% of these refugees are teens, and the vast majority of them have been out of school for several years. This is often due to inability to pay for tuition fees or adapt to the the different curricula — Syrian classes are taught in Arabic while Lebanese classes are taught in English and French  Also, many teens have to forego an education to find work and help support their families.

To help teens learn marketable skills to help them cope, UNICEF and ANERA have ramped up efforts to provide over 11,000 adolescents, children and community members with life skills and a non-formal education in protective learning environments.

The Quick Impact Skills Development program includes literacy and numeracy, occupation-specific and generic job skills and life lessons to help them learn interpersonal and interpersonal skills for living and working together.

The program also offers youth different pathways to success to help them prepare for and access formal education wherever possible, including the Ministry of Education’s newly-launched Accelerated Learning Program (ALP).  Special attention is given to the inclusion of girls in all activities.

We’d like you to meet some of the hardworking individuals who are overcoming unimaginable obstacles to pursue their education.

Meet Sami, a 16-Year-Old Refugee from Aleppo

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Sami came to Lebanon two years ago when armed clashes reached his neighborhood in Aleppo. Leaving his father behind due to political restrictions, Sami had to drop out of school to work in a supermarket in order to pay the rent for his family of seven. Sami earns $6 a day, working 13 hours carrying boxes weighing up to 50 kilos each. At 16 he already suffers from back pain. He always dreamed of becoming a surgeon, but soon after he arrived to Lebanon, his dream faded as his harsh reality took hold.

Social workers introduced Sami to the UNICEF program, implemented by ANERA, and he started to dream of a better future for himself. Every Friday and Saturday, Sami takes off from work to join the classes. He says, “I want to become a surgeon, so I can treat people for free and not discriminate against anyone, now that I know how that feels.”

Meet Dina, a Lebanese Teen Unable to Afford Public School

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Dina, age 18, was born in Bebnine Akkar, North Lebanon. She dropped out of school two years ago because of her family’s difficult financial situation. She works 13 hours a day in a clothing shop, for $110 a month in order to help support her family. Dina found out about the UNICEF project through her neighbors.  

The program, which is implemented by ANERA, offers her a chance to resume her studies, including Arabic, English, math, as well as life skills and sports. Dina says her greatest passion is drawing and she dreams of enrolling in art school and decorating walls and streets with her paintings. After only a month, Dina has made new friends from different villages and different communities, including Syrian refugees who fled their homes and are now living in Lebanon’s Akkar area.

Meet Adnan, a Young Refugee Paralyzed by a Stray Bullet in Homs

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Three years ago in Homs, Syria, a stray bullet from a sniper hit Adnan in his spinal cord. It put him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He traveled to Lebanon for treatment and had several surgeries to keep him alive. Adnan started at a public school in Akkar, in north Lebanon, but the building was not designed for students in wheel chairs. He dropped out.

Adnan joined ANERA’s program, which is sponsored by UNICEF, to pursue his education and his dream of becoming an electrical engineer. The courses are held in a friendly space designed to be accessible to the most vulnerable. He also gets reliable care and assistance and transportation to and from class.

Meet More Refugee Teens in Lebanon Pursuing Non-Formal Education

A visit to the neighborhood barbershop in El Sawarha easily turns into a community gathering—something that was missing after the 2014 Gaza war, when water connections were damaged and the shop remained shuttered.  Today, thanks to a new connection to a steady water supply, the barber shop is open again and doing a brisk business.

Inside the shop, a group of men and children were sitting and admiring the finishing touches on other clients. “I used to come here once a week to get my hair cut and frankly just to see people from around the neighborhood,” said Kahled El-Masri as he admired his new haircut.

Residents of El Sawarha village have been struggling with poverty, unemployment, poor health and bad water conditions for many years.  The 2014 Gaza war left the village with a lot of damage and deep scars.

With funding from Islamic Relief, ANERA is working on 18 water and sanitation projects to reconnect impoverished communities across Gaza, including El Sawarha, to reliable water supplies.

A Bit of Beauty Amid Tragedy

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A young boy admires his new haircut at the barbershop.

“People bear heavy burdens here and yet they can find something nice in the barbershop,” said owner Abdel Kareem El Masri. “I do five or six shaves and cuts a day. I get more customers on the weekend.”

While spraying water and trimming the hair of one of his customers, his face lights up and he talks about the new water connections to his house and to the shop.

“This part of the village lacked clean water for many years,” he said.  Like many residents of the village, he and his family would stay up late at night waiting impatiently for water to come out of the tap. “Sometimes it was only a few drops. It was even harder to fill the tanks at home and have enough water in the shop to keep it open,” he said. So he spent most of his earnings on buying water to fill tanks at home and at the store.

Abdel Kareem says the new water connections have improved the lives of his family and his village. “I need water to wash my customers’ hair and clean the equipment and launder the towels,” he said. “Without water, the minimum standards are lost.”

“With the new water connection, my job is much easier and lets me keep the only barbershop in this poor village operational,” Kareem says. Smiling, he continues, “It adds a bit of beauty to the village too.”

This is evidenced by the name he gave his barbershop, “Ahla Naas,” which means “beautiful people.”

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Outside “Ahla Naas,” kids from the village fill up their water bottles with clean running water.

Poor hygiene from lack of a reliable supply of clean water has had negative repercussions on the health of village residents, especially children who are at high risk of infections, diarrhea, parasites and dehydration. Recent reports have shown that 26% of Gaza diseases are water related and 90% of the underground water is contaminated.

With a pair of scissors in one hand and a thick comb in the other, Abdel Kareem acknowledges he doesn’t make a lot of money, charging only 3NIS per client ($.75) but he says the barbershop is a lot of fun and a center of village life: “I like when people are waiting for their haircut they share stories and news of the village and even plan some social events too.”

“The touch of the seashell as it sits on the palm of your hand” is what expressive arts specialist Khitam Idilbi wanted the 20 participating teachers inside a training hall in Tubas, West Bank to feel. “Feel it, smell it and look at its details,” says Khitam as she hands each teacher a seashell.

“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Some saw an entire sea, some saw their childhood, some saw shapes of animals, or a familiar face. Even after they exchanged seashells with their neighbor, each teacher saw each seashell in a different way.

“That’s the beauty of being part of a group,” concluded one the teachers. “Our different ideas and viewpoints enrich our collective experience.”

The teachers, ranging in age and background, came from different areas and preschools around Tubas to participate in ANERA’s teacher training course as part of ANERA’s early childhood development program (ECD).

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The teachers get ready for a day of learning with expressive arts specialist Khitam Idilbi.

Khitam Idilbi is among other trainers working in tandem with ECD trainer and coordinator Sulaima Abu El-Haj who covers core-curriculum topics. Khitam is an expressive arts councilor, trainer and therapist, with 25 years of experience in training.

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Each teacher made a clay model of a place that is dear to their hearts, or one they dream of visiting.

The serenity of her session that day gradually evolved into a livelier atmosphere as the teachers took on the next task: using clay to mold a representation of a place dear to their hearts or one they dream of visiting. Each teacher built a different model and then explained to the others what it was and how it made her feel.

Tears streamed down a teacher’s face as she reminisced about her childhood home and how her mother’s warmth and love held the family together. Another explained how she would love to vanish to a remote island with her fiancé and just forget about the world. They all laughed and cried together, asked questions and enjoyed each other’s stories.

Teachers Get to Be Kids Again While Learning How to Engage Students

What made the day unique was the reading of a short story by Khitam’s friend who works in drama and education. Al Miller has 40 years experience as a teacher, clown, mime, director, playwright, actor and story teller who lives in the US state of Maine.

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A teacher listens intently to Al Millter’s animated storytelling.

Al was visiting the West Bank at the time of the session and was keen to join Khitam. “I mostly watched Khitam work and admired how well she interacts with everyone and how excited teachers get working with her,” explained Al.

Thanks to Al, the teachers got to see the story of the fox and the crow in a whole new light, this time from the perspective of the listener. Their eyes were fixated on Al as he brilliantly acted out the scenes and embodied each of the characters.

The session also included a lot of hands-on training. The teachers organized themselves into five groups and began painting a theme of their choice. Each group produced one large painting and then used the painting to create a brief story that they narrated to the rest of the group.

For the final review of their work, the teachers sat with Khitam so each one could express her feelings and ideas and discuss what she had learned.

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Teachers work together to create themed paintings which they will share with their peers.

This was Khitam’s third session with the same group of teachers, working alongside ANERA’s Sulaima Abu Al Haj. “I enjoy training this group because the teachers are interacting well and are serious about developing themselves,” said Khitam. “I hope I will have enough time to explain more about why it is important to include arts in all aspects of the preschool and not just limit it to painting.”

Sulaima Abu El-Haj says the key is for the teachers to practice what they have absorbed in the sessions to make their classrooms a truly enjoyable learning experience for the children. The teachers got to be kids again, making houses out of clay, admiring a sea shell, listening intently to a story and painting in groups. “This is how learning happens!”

Under the ECD program ANERA also renovates, furnishes and equips preschools with child-appropriate materials and provides reading bags for kids and parents to encourage learning both in the class and at home.

Mother Ohoud Dahouk gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl last month. The mother of two calls her doctor an angel for helping her bear the pain of a difficult delivery. And that care and assistance doesn’t stop with the birth. Ohoud and her baby Mariya continue to get help from Near East Council of Churches (NECC) field health workers who provide postpartum checkups at home and at the clinic.

Many new mothers in Gaza lack the basic baby supplies needed to keep their infants safe and healthy. Medical workers blame that on a lack of funds and also inadequate hygiene awareness. ANERA has organized mother and child health awareness sessions to help new mothers to learn cope and to offer some help with starter kits including necessary supplies.

“The ability to have these items at childbirth can offer hope for a healthy future for our newborns.”

In Ohoud’s case, the financial burden made it impossible for her to get things like soap and diapers. After she finished her awareness course with her health worker Riham Abu Hassan, Ohoud received one of ANERA’s newborn hygiene kits that contain shampoo for mother and baby, diapers and sanitary pads.

“I was surprised by the gift,” says Ohoud. “It is not common to get something of such value.”

ANERA baby hygiene kits provide new moms with health care items necessary to properly care for their children, especially impoverished families who cannot afford basic supplies. “The ability to have these items at childbirth can offer hope for a healthy future for our newborns,” says health worker Riham.

Thanks to ANERA’s grant, NECC clinic was able to deliver 2,400 hygiene kits at three of its locations and to organize awareness sessions to promote good hygiene and tips for proper infant care.
In Gaza, children from low-income families and those who live in communities with poor sanitation systems are at high risk of infections that can affect their growth and well-being. With just $14 per kit, ANERA is able to provide a starter supply of health care items to help protect infants from contracting infections and deal with other health issues.

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Riham Abu Hassan, a clinic healthcare worker provides an awareness course for Ohoud.

New Early Screening Equipment at Gaza Clinic

The NECC clinic also provides a range of health care services, including pre-postnatal, family planning and reproductive education for many women residing in the Al-Daraj neighborhood. ANERA’s grant also allowed the clinic to buy new equipment, including an ultrasound, blood pressure apparatus, baby scales and child breathing devices.

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Saja, an expectant mother, learned she has a healthy baby on the way thanks to the new ultrasound at the clinic.

The equipment is vital to monitoring the health of expectant and new mothers and their infants. In Gaza, pregnant women are at risk because of an inadequate diet and frequent pregnancies. “We test blood count and pressure in every patient to monitor her and her baby’s health throughout the pregnancy cycle,” says Dr. Riham Abu Khater.

Thanks to the ultrasound equipment from ANERA, she says it is much easier to monitor the development of the fetus and help doctors detect any abnormalities earlier.

Saja Eldremly, in her ninth month, welcomes the more thorough tests and screenings. After getting assurances from the doctor that everything is as it should be, Saja says her next visit will most likely be for the birth of her baby. She is a bit anxious but then she smiles when she remembers she’ll have the hygiene kit and the nurses’ advice to help her take proper care of her newborn.