"Why not us? Why can’t we speak English? What’s the problem?" my children ask me all the time.
This mother has three daughters and two sons. “When they ask me to teach them English and I cannot give it to them, they ask me why.” she exclaims. “I explain to them that it is because I spent my whole life under occupation but this does not explain things any further to them, they still ask me ‘Why?’ and I am ashamed that I have no answer for them.” For a myriad of reasons she had dropped out of her prep school aged 13. Her family hadn’t been able to support her studies, the transport restrictions with Israeli checkpoints, the curfews, the extra demands to help her family and community in these difficult times, not to mention the pressures around starting her own family. Now she is determined that her children can have the opportunities of which she was deprived.
“So I come here to learn English and I hope that this will be the last time that we live like this, forever."
So our project is intent on teaching English to women and their children with Ajyal Association, called ‘Lets Learn English’ focusing on rural areas. During my work as both an assistant coordinator for English language teaching and as a documentary film director, I saw the hopes in the faces of many women and their children who want to speak and learn English. In this project we aim to teach children and their mothers, exploring creative ways such as songs, videos and participation in group and partner activities. We work with volunteers like social workers and English students in universities, using simple materials like my laptop, even recording songs mixed in Arabic and English.
For example, the song ‘baba means father, and mama means mother’. This is part of the lyrics of a song about names of family members and the kind of tool used for children and their mothers to use and remember them. Our group of trainers work together to design these classes, such as the personal information in English segment. Again we didn’t have the entire material available, but that didn’t stop us from creating our own materials from simple equipment
It is a delight when we saw mothers challenging each other, one asking the other in arabic, “If you’re so good at speaking English, can you translate ‘I’m drinking tea’?”, to which the woman replied, yes, “I am drunking tea”
It was one of many funny incidents as the women show no fear in their attempts to speak English. Another woman said not only was she continuing the teaching of English at home to her children, she had even begun to teach her husband too.
Sarah, a coach in the ‘Let's Learn English’ projects spoke about how the teaching methods were sinking in:
“When we had a revision class on days and months, colors, body, and time, I wrote on the board the letters of the alphabet and told the women to write a word for every letter. Many women specifically remembered the words taught in the class.
The Children in the Project
Another coach Shahd, describes his experience with the children from the ‘Let's Learn English’ project:
“Amani Abdelal is a very cute girl. She was waiting for me in front of the Ajyal Association, the Creativity and Development building. When she saw me coming, she ran to me to give me this card with a very pure smile. I was surprised by her kindness and very impressed by the simple way she had designed my name. I thanked her and asked her why she had made this beautiful card for me. She answered me saying that she loves me and loves learning English in this project. They were very simple words full of innocence. However, she affected me very much and she let me feel the taste of success.”
As a Palestinian in Gaza under a siege, a military occupation and still reconstructing our lives after the bombings in early 2009, I believe we must do what we can on the ground to bring a smile to people, giving them the benefits of the English language in a creative way. I also appeal to the international community and people who love peace and freedom to break the silence, take moral and legal action towards the people of Gaza, demanding the provision of basic needs, the minimum of international protection and work to support the rights of Palestinian people which for so long have been deprived, especially for children. Our children are our future, so we must work together so that we can make this future better than the present. The Universal declaration of Human Rights states that all children should have the right to education, and Palestinian children are as deserving as any others.