Japanese grants help turn Palestinian schools into child-friendly environments

This story was originally posted by UNICEF oPt

By Monica Awad

18 March 2015, Al-Khader, State of Palestine - For 12-year Muna, going to school used to be a challenging experience.

Housed in a decaying building, the classrooms were freezing cold in winter, making it difficult for students to focus. Rain and snow would leak through the roof. Muna and her fellow students would cram in a tiny area of the classroom, up to four students per small desk, to keep warm and escape the cold leaks.

Many students fell sick. According to school records, half of the girls missed school for at least one day during the month of February in 2014.

“The decayed building with its ill-fitting windows did not isolate students from the cold,” Sahar Jaber, the School Principal, tells in her office, surrounded with dozens of trophies the students won in sport competitions. 

“There have been some clashes with settlers or Israeli soldiers near the school. When tear gas entered the classrooms, girls had difficulties breathing.”

Even when weather conditions improved, studying in the school was not easy.

“It was very hard for us to follow what our teachers wrote on the blackboard. These were so worn-out that it was nearly impossible to read what was written on them,” Muna remembers.

In the yard, the 333 teenage girls enrolled in the school used to trip on uneven, old tiles.

Better facilities

With funding from Japan, UNICEF rehabilitated 10 schools in some of the most vulnerable areas of the West Bank, in partnership with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

One of these schools was Muna’s Al-Khader Basic School for Girls, located in a village home to some 12,000 Palestinians, close to Bethlehem. Residents have to cope with access restrictions and security issues in link with the presence of the Barrier and the close vicinity of a settlement.

The 11 classrooms of Muna’s two-storey school building are now coloured with pastel colours - mostly pink, purple or light blue - chosen by a group of 15 students. New windows and blackboards were installed, and the tiles of the two yards were changed.

“Our classrooms are clean and colourful, and we are no longer drenched with water when it rains,” Muna tells. “Since my school is like new, I enjoy coming to class very much.” 

Following the rehabilitation, the percentage of girls missing school in winter dramatically dropped– only 18 per cent of the students missed school for at least one day during the month of February this year.

The rehabilitation of the school benefited all children, including those with disabilities.

“When I play with my friend Bissan, it is now much easier to move her around in her wheelchair,” Muna tells. ”All of us can now run and play hide and seek without being scared of falling in the school yard.”

The rehabilitation of the school has also contributed to improve students’ psychosocial well-being. 

“I feel much happier and calmer since the school was renovated, says 13-year-old Shaden, one of Muna’s best friends. 

“I used to fall sick often in winter, to the point that I even dreaded coming to school. Now I look forward to coming and playing with my friends. This year I am the second highest-rating student in my class!”

Students engaging in a class in Al-Khader Basic School for Girls. © UNICEF/SoP/2015/ Izhiman

Muna, 12, participates actively in her newly renovated classroom. © UNICEF/SoP/2015/ Izhiman