My name is Reem Mohammed Abu Jaber. I am the Executive Director of Nawa for Culture and Arts Association and head-teacher at El Hekayat preschool in Deir Al Balah, Gaza.
I am 42 years old and have six sisters and two brothers. Yes, we’re a big family but you know something—we are all well educated.
I have a degree in library science and a Masters in strategic planning. I worked for UNRWA’s education department and later as Director of the Qattan Center for Children.
A Dream for Children in Gaza
But in 2012, I decided I needed to take some time off to reflect on my experiences of working with children, especially the children traumatized by war. I needed to find out what I could do to realize my dream of helping children in Gaza through art and culture. So, in 2014 I helped start an NGO, called Nawa for Culture and Arts Association that serves children in the most deprived areas of Gaza. We are working mainly in the Deir Al Balah area.
Why? Because our community has major challenges that have been brought on by the blockade, border closures, inadequate health services, poverty and just plain despair. I can see how hard it is for young people, educators and professionals to develop and learn.
In 2011, I decided to make my personal community contribution to children and parents in Deir Al Balah, so I took the initiative towards establishing El Hekayat school, which means storytelling. It’s what I’m doing right now—telling my story.
We had so many challenges just to survive. Our limited budget makes it hard to equip the school and ensure it’s a healthy place for youngsters. Thanks to Anera’s help and support, we have renovated the preschool and put in new bathrooms, a lovely play area with a sunroof to protect the children from the Gaza sun.
Healthly Living & Learning Thrive at Hekayat Preschool
I have to tell you one of my major concerns is to make sure the water is clean because our drinking fountain was in decay. Sometimes the water that poured out was yellow and brackish. And then our water tank was destroyed in last year’s war so we had nothing. But now after all the fine work that Anera did to our school, we can boast access to clean drinking water. That is a major achievement for us, believe me.
We’ve got about 80 children now and it’s such a joy to see them able to learn and develop in a clean, safe environment. Anera also gave us wonderful educational toys and books, and trained us how to use them in the best possible way.
I am so proud of how we have improved our children’s health and happiness, thanks to Anera’s early childhood development program. Don’t laugh when I tell you we painted the school a lovely peach color. Yes, we did. And, you know what? We can see already how it brings the children a sense of peace in their chaotic lives. It’s wonderful.
We can see already how it brings the children a sense of peace in their chaotic lives.
Oh, and another benefit of our bright, cheerful and healthy environment is that it encourages parents and teachers to come together there. We’ve even started a parents’ club as part of our literacy program so mothers now meet once a week to take part in activities that help them become good educators at home, especially when it comes to encouraging health habits. It has been useful for providing parents with some psychosocial support too.
Children in Gaza have experienced many horrible things, their homes destroyed and relatives killed — but also the effects of years of poverty, inadequate education and health services. But I have seen with my own eyes in our kindergarten how our children can teach us something very important: Given the opportunity, they are always ready to make a new start with energy and enthusiasm. They never hesitate. Working with the children of Gaza inspires us all.
Building a Better Life for Tomorrow
We know that life in Gaza is difficult but my colleagues and I have a simple dream: to light a candle of learning inside every child so it will burn bright and guide them for the rest of their lives. We light the candle when we help the children to see the beauty of everything around us. We know it will take many years to see the changes we dream of that’s fine. When we watch our children grow and develop, we can believe our lives will change for the better one day.
I was fortunate to have a good education and I want to share that with the next generation. It’s my dream. You know the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darweesh? He says “There is no sun under the sun, but the light in our hearts.”
We named our organizationl Nawa, which means the seed of the palm tree. The town of Deir Al Balah means “the monastery of palm trees,” so Nawa’s preschool really is the seed for positive change. And, “nawa” also means good intentions, which we have beyond measure because we know this is the way to give children in Gaza a better life for tomorrow.