About 10 kilometers south of the city of Hebron is Ar-Rihiya, a quiet and small village of 8,000.
Ar-Rihiya Secondary Girls School is the only girls school in the village and a product of the villagers’ hard work and determination. The people of Ar-Rihiya, believing in the girls’ right to education, single-handedly built the school, despite their limited resources.
Because the school was built by the villagers with limited capital, the school had many defects and was incomplete. Latifa, a dedicated school employee, has worked as a custodian for 14 years and has suffered from the school’s dilapidated condition, with its lack of window panes and clean running water.
“Winter was a nightmare. We used to go out in the rain and cold to fill several plastic bottles with water from the neighbors. [My colleague] Em-Riyad and I used to use cardboard to seal the windows, but the wind was always too strong and it would blow the cardboard off. We would not stop shivering,” says Latifa.
Latifa was sometimes forced to draw water from a contaminated cistern nearby. Although the cistern is the school’s property, it is outside the school premises and shared by the entire neighborhood. The opening of the cistern is close to the ground, exposing it to filth and viruses.
Today, however, Al-Rihiya school has transformed, welcoming its students each day with newly painted walls, clean running water, drinking fountains and repaired window panes. The school’s $80,000 rehabilitation project, funded by USAID with a local contribution of $7,500, was implemented by ANERA. The project included renovation of the school cistern, installation of a concrete wall to protect the cistern and prevent pollution of the water, renovation of an old drinking fountain and the installation of a new one. Four water tanks and one water pump were also installed on the roof and were connected to the cistern, providing the school with clean drinking water.
In addition, the project installed new light fixtures and doors, and renovated the kitchen and bathrooms.
Not only did the project create 300 days of employment and a healthier and safer school environment, it also restored the staff and students’ vigor and enthusiasm. Vice principal and English teacher Sana Al-Sharif was about to resign due to the dreadful conditions of the school, but she changed her mind after witnessing the school’s transformation.
“We can finally focus entirely on educating the students. We don’t have to worry anymore about rain or wind or lack of water. I feel comfortable working in this vibrant and cheerful environment. The relationship between the teachers has improved, because we finally feel like this school is indeed our second home. It has brought us closer together and because of that we are able to become better and more focused teachers,” Sana explains.
Even the smallest detail, like the wall paint, has left a great impact on the students. “Including the girls in selecting the colors of the walls gave them a feeling of belonging to the school. It made them feel that they matter,” says Hanadi Darwish, engineer and infrastructure coordinator at ANERA.
The students are now a lot more careful keeping the school clean. They finally feel like the school is a part of them. Tasneem, a ninth grade student, is happy she no longer has to sit at a wet desk in winter. “This is a much better learning environment,” she says.
As for Latifa, she no longer has to carry plastic bottles around foraging for water. So what happened to the plastic bottles?
“I dumped them in the garbage; they are no longer needed,” Latifa says laughing. “But I kept one here in the cupboard just for the memory.”