Sulaima’s World: Supporting Women and Children in Palestine

Posted in: Voices from the field

Helping other women brings me the greatest satisfaction. As women, we don’t have the support we need in our society—especially working women and mothers. I always try to convey to women that their voices matter and that their development is in their own powerful hands.

I get to help women through my job as a preschool teacher trainer for ANERA’s early childhood development (ECD) program. I train teachers and mothers to overcome the challenges they face. I share with them the obstacles I faced in the past as I was personally and professionally growing. Now, at age 59, I can’t help but see my younger self in many of the mothers and teachers I guide—the Sulaima who became a mother at the young age of 22.

Sulaim Abu El Haj is a specialist in Early Childhood Development in Palestine

Sulaim Abu El Haj is a specialist in Early Childhood Development in Palestine

In fact, my experience as a mother was the key factor that drew me to the early childhood sector in the first place. By my mid-twenties I already had three young children, and I was alone with my husband in a foreign country without any family to provide us with help and moral support.

I had countless questions and concerns, and, as an educated woman, I always referred to books for answers. You’d always see me at home with a book in my hand, a habit that rubbed off on my oldest son Omar, who is a very well-read young man and still passionate about reading.

My experience as a mother was the key factor that drew me to the early childhood sector in the first place.

Although my early childhood work in Palestine began in 1985, I had previously worked in the field of education in the United States. I also used to volunteer at my children’s preschools, which provided me with practice and knowledge. By the time I relocated to Palestine, I was ready to apply what I learned during my stay in the US to help the local ECD sector, which was severely lacking in resources and capabilities.

Upon my return to Palestine, I joined the first organization to support ECD. We were pioneers who passionately believed in the rights of young children in Palestine and the importance of a healthy start to the development of their own lives and that of our future society. After conducting a thorough survey on the needs of the ECD sector, I moved onto my role as a teacher trainer. In fact, I’ve been a trainer ever since.


ANERA and ECD: A Holistic Approach for Children in Palestine

ANERA’s ECD program addresses the needs of the sector holistically and comprehensively. We work across the West Bank and Gaza, and that’s what makes it so special.
My role as a teacher trainer exposes me to different communities and mentalities. What I offer these teachers is basic knowledge that they need for their work, such as child development and children’s psychology. We also cover topics such as child rights, language and active learning. Without this information, the teacher wouldn’t be able to plan or implement a quality educational program.

I work with a group of expert trainers, each focusing on their field of expertise. We cover core curriculum, music, expressive arts and drama, communications and learning difficulties. Upon completing 30 sessions, teachers receive a diploma.


We have the teachers play with toys and games amongst themselves, to formulate a deeper understanding of their value to children, and to simplify concepts presented during the training.

Another important part of the training is mentorship. This is how I help teachers translate theoretical material into practical exercises and activities.

Helping teachers within their own settings is crucial, as there is some uniqueness to each location. That’s why I step into the classroom to observe how teachers work in harmony to implement their lessons. Afterwards, I have a one-on-one feedback session with each teacher, followed by a group discussion.


Getting Parents Involved

Through ANERA’s Let’s Read! initiative, we encourage both parent and child to pick up reading. We start by distributing reading bags to children in Palestine, including quality books and a pamphlet on the importance of reading and tips to help parents bond with their children through storytelling.

Part of my work as a trainer is to guide parents as well. Through the preschools we help, we gather parents (mainly mothers) to discuss parenting issues. We talk about child development and I try to address their problems and concerns. We play together with the ANERA-provided educational games and toys. That gives parents a sense of how productively their children spend their day at the preschool, and how important active learning is to their physical, cognitive and emotional development.

Sulaima encourages parents to read to their children regularly, as a vital part of early childhood development.

Sulaima encourages parents to read to their children regularly, as a vital part of early childhood development.


Partnership with the Ministry of Education

We’re very proud of our partnership with MoE, as it gives the program the formality it requires and deserves. Developing a national framework alongside the MoE has taken the early childhood sector to a more serious level, giving it the attention it has longed for. It’s quite promising in terms of sustainability, development and adequacy.

Back in ECD’s earliest days, there were only two governmental preschools that doubled as training centers in the West Bank. Today the sector has 94 governmental preschools, and we’ve helped develop seven of them in southern Hebron, Salfit and Tubas. The schools and playgrounds were rehabilitated, and their teachers trained.


It’s All About the Children

At the end of the day, we’re investing in the future of our country. These young children carry the face of Palestine’s potential. The formative years of a child’s life are the most important to their development as adults, and we have the privilege to guide them through it. We are giving them the right start in life.

Sulaima is a lifelong expert of early childhood education and got her start pioneering the program in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sulaima is a lifelong expert of early childhood education and got her start pioneering the program in the West Bank, Palestine.

 

We’re investing in the future of our country. These children carry the face of Palestine’s potential.

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