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I learnt the Arabic word for “everything” in Ramallah’s falafel shops, where the vendors will ask if you want kulshi – saying yes means you get their whole repertoire of different salads, fresh lemon, and chili squashed into your sandwich. I was glad I’d learnt it, because it came in handy again in a falafel shop in Nablus, where the Right to Education team had this conversation with a falafel vendor about his feelings on education.
“What does education mean to you?”
I’m glad I could understand this simple conversation. We had many conversations that day, and this was the only one short enough for me to follow. Most of the people we spoke to had a lot more to say. What was clear to me, watching our Palestinian volunteers speaking to people on the streets, was that everyone from farmers selling their produce at a market to a barber in his shop felt passionate about education.
The volunteers from the UK have been here a month now. Most of our time is spent in the Right to Education office on the Birzeit University campus. While in Nablus, we decided it would be useful for us to talk to people outside the bubble of Ramallah and the ivory towers of the university about how they felt about education. The results were overwhelming.
We spoke to a barber who wanted to be an Arabic teacher, to women in the market who wanted their children to have the tools to deal with life as an adult.
The mind wants education, one man told us in English. I asked him why education was important to him, and he started talking about his cafe business. I thought for a moment the language barrier had gotten in the way and he had misunderstood, but in fact he was one step ahead. His business was all thanks to his education.
The people we met were overwhelmingly forthright in their support for education and how important it is. Whether they felt it was a basic right, or one of the most important ways a person can implement God’s will, education was a big factor in everyone’s life. It was incredibly encouraging for us as a campaign. Palestinians should be proud of their stance on education, which is reflected in Palestine’s high enrollment in schools and universities. Although UNICEF reports that children and students face physical and psychological challenges in getting an education due to the occupation, attendance at schools and universities remains relatively high regionally and nationally.As well as speaking to Nablus residents, Right to Education volunteers recently teamed up with Birzeit University’s Advancement Project to give English conversation classes. We discussed the importance of education, and asked whether more of Palestine’s budget should be spent on schools. Students were torn – some argued that the occupation means that the vast majority of the budget should be spent on defence and infrastructure.
Others made the point that, however much is spent on defence, houses will continue to be demolished and Palestinians will continue to be casualties. Yet, even if a person is injured, disabled, or loses their property, one thing that can’t be taken from them as long as they are alive is their education.
Our team is conducting a survey to give a statistically accurate reflection of not only how people feel about education, but how much they know about it. We hope that this survey will show how accurate a picture Palestinians have of the challenges facing their education system. We will then use this to shape Right to Education’s awareness-raising and advocacy. Inshallah, this research will be useful for other rights groups too!