“My key to the world of children is love,” says Randa El Ijlaa, who earned a diploma in kindergarten active learning.
She has ten brothers and sisters so working with children was something that came naturally. “I couldn’t pursue a university education because of budgetary limit. So, I got my diploma and chose to work with children in preschools as my career.”
Randa’s first teaching assignment was far from home. When El-Hekmah preschool opened in 2000 in her Gaza neighborhood, she knew it was the perfect opportunity to serve her community.
As part of her professional development, Randa took part in Anera’s teacher training program this summer that highlighted the benefits of reading corners in the classroom.
“I learned so much about storytelling. Every child has to see the picture in the colorful story. I learned to start reading the story orally and make my class imagine the story to enrich their imagination.”
Randa says she also learned how to change her tone and imitate the characters in the story to bring the story alive for her young listeners.
She also discovered the power of puppets as a method of education and now engages her children in making the puppets and telling the stories themselves.”
She says it is very different from past practices that relied too much on TV as an educational tool that didn’t really get the children actively involved. Now she knows how to expand preschool activities like writing and playing that are more child-focused.
For Randa, the reading corner is also a place for behavior improvements. “I remember a child who was violent and used to rip up his books,” Randa explains. “This year he loves school and likes to tell me stories about his house and his brothers and sisters.”
Active learning and reading strategies were the focal points of Anera’s training sessions that were arranged as part of the Right Start! Program, which is funded by USAID and managed by Mercy Corps through the Palestinian assistance program PCAP.
Another focus of the program is getting parents involved. Randa remembers one mother who came to the preschool to play with the children and was keen to learn how to play the games with her child at home. She also now wanted to make sure there would be time for reading at home too.
” I am very much connected to my community which is a remote and marginalized area,” says Randa. Many of the men who worked in Israel before Gaza was closed off now are unemployed. She says there are many tough, complicated social issues stemming from deprivation and other adversities. “I listen to parents and try to work with them, raising awareness about their children’s education and other issues. I love to pass what I have learned to mothers, they become more positive, they are eager to learn and to change.”
Every morning, Randa is at the gate to welcome the children with a smile. “I love the children and I think this is the secret of my success and happiness,’ smiles Randa.
Randa says she learns as much from her children as they do from her. “I want to help build better lives for them and give them even more opportunities than our generation.”