At the school for which I volunteer, students who reach the twelfth grade enter into a program called Tawjihi. This is evidence of a culmination of all their hard work in previous grades as well as their intention to attend university or join the work force. The closest parallel I can draw to the American educational world would be some sort of post-secondary or advanced placement program. These students spend their year preparing for and taking exams, the results of which heavily influence which universities they will be permitted to attend as well as which careers they can likely pursue. I work with their English teacher and was recently given the opportunity to read some of their essays.
Miss Haneen assigned them all to write about their perspectives on money. They were asked what money is good for as well as why it may be considered “the root of all evil.” Granted, my main role was to correct their grammar and spelling, but I couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised by the content of their responses. These students are incredibly gifted thinkers and they are blessed with teachers who ask them all the right questions.
“If we could actually have a fair life, we wouldn’t suffer,” wrote one especially candid student.
Many students like this one wrote at length about their lives under occupation. They wrote about how lack of freedom of mobility limits them from achieving things they once dreamt of as children. Some of them wrote on their thoughts of money as a necessity yet, at the same time, a shallow form of motivation. Others detailed financial success as their most important goal. But the common thread that wove through was the circumstances are unfair. To pack the entire plight of the Palestinian people into one metaphor would be to say that some people are dealt a bad hand. Believe me, the essays were loaded with metaphors but I wont tell you who wrote that one.
A friend of mine, who has been to this place before, initiated a difficult conversation with me a few months ago when he asked, “The difference between poor and wealthy is wild here, isn’t it?” I didn’t have to think on that question long before I nodded in agreement. We spoke for a while about finances; how they affect our lives and how we’ve seen them affect the lives of those in our host community. He made a heavy point when he said, “Poor back home is wealthy here.”
Some of the students wrote about differences they were aware of between separate nations’ economies. And I thought about the conversation I had with my friend as I read their work. I also recalled this walk that I enjoy taking. It’s one of my favorite walks in the city, especially around sunset. In about thirty minutes, if I move quickly, I can get all the way from our home near the center of town to one of the northernmost neighborhoods. I like making this trek because of the spectacular views but it’s always a shock to see the city change from derelict to well-kept. To see such an immediate and stark contrast between the poverty of the city and the wealth. This is the crux of one of humankind’s major problems, isn’t it? The inequity between classes of people. Between races, genders, religions, and social status. No one is more aware of this problem than the students of my school.
The reason I don’t spend time attending class with the Tawjihi students is because they are engaged in standardized studies that take up all their time. To even glimpse their work has been a gift. They are intelligent, talented, and motivated. I have every confidence in them as the future of Palestine.