Picture a young eight-year-old girl heading to school. She arrives in front of a building and slowly walks down a steep, asphalt slope.
She is careful because she knows if she runs down the slope she is likely to fall and scrape her knees. At the bottom, she does not enter a bright and colorful school building. Instead, she enters a small, dark, stuffy makeshift school area that was converted from an old, underground parking garage. Decorations and colorful posters inside cannot disguise the cramped, windowless rooms.
Sadly, this was the only remedy for Al-Tasamoh Elementary School in Beit Sahour. Located just one kilometer east of Bethlehem, the town has some 15,000 residents and almost a third of them of a school age. That translated into overcrowded schools.
The school administration found a solution by converting the parking space just a five minute walk from the school building for about 70 youngsters in grades 1, 2 and 3. It became known as El-Tabaria School. Students were also sent to other schools in the area.
Ms. Rana Boulos, a young science teacher, also worked as a secretary in the “parking lot school.” She described the environment as less than suitable for nurturing young minds. There was no natural light or fresh air. Noise travelled through the overcrowded classrooms making it hard for teachers and students to concentrate. Students were easily agitated and distracted.
El-Tabaria Principal Fatima Abu Taha explains that teachers and students alike complained of headaches, dizziness and claustrophobia. She acknowledged that parents were upset but had no alternative except for homeschooling. But, that was not an option in families where both parents work.
With funding from USAID’s EWAS II program, Anera was able to remedy the situation and fullfil Al Tasamoh Principal Georgette Hilal’s dream to help her students and transform her school into a welcoming place of learning. The EWAS II Team added a new wing to the Al-Tasamoh School building six new classrooms, science and computer labs, a kitchen, and restrooms with handicap facilities for teachers and students. The original school building and its facilities were also renovated and the playground vastly expanded.
Now Al-Tasamoh Elementary School has reunited its “parking lot school” students and can still accommodate more.
Science teacher Rana Boulos smiled as she described the new classrooms: “When the students saw the new large and bright rooms, they were so excited, they were practically bouncing off the walls!” She continues, “Teachers now have room to walk around the students and give them more individual attention.”
Parents were delighted too. Mothers brought sweets and chocolates to celebrate the completed project. The children welcomed the brightly painted walls and the new toilets but they were most excited about the new expansive playground!
Principal Hilal retired before the work was completed, but she was satisfied knowing her dream had come true and that her students would benefit from a healthier environment.
When Principal Fatima Abu Taha moved her students back from the dark underground parking lot to the transformed Al-Tasamoh School, she could not stop smiling, “I didn’t believe I would see this day. Look at where we were and where we are now!