by Nathan Stuckey
1 April 2012 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
Al Huda School is a small, private primary school in Khan Yunis. It serves about 400 students, a quarter of them orphans. The school isn’t in the center of town, it is more out in the countryside. You look out the windows over fields of wheat and groves of olives. The countryside is reflected in the building, nicely painted white and green with a large outdoor area for the children to play. It has smaller classes than most schools in Gaza, only 20 to 25 students per class unlike the 40 to 50 that cram into UNWRA and government schools. The classrooms are clean and stocked with books and supplies for the children. Today the school was showcasing their arts and culture program in honor of land day. Al Huda School was working in conjunction with the Ethar Initiative, a local voluntary group that seeks to improve the lives of disadvantaged women and children. The Ethar Initiative works to provide job opportunities for poor women and children’s programs for needy children. The children were doing art projects and putting on a play. We were honored guests.
We were met by the headmistress, Reham S. Al Najjar, a young woman who seems to have an easy way with kids. We are ushered into her office while we wait for the students to get ready for the play. She told us about the school while we drank tea and ate small chocolate bars. When the students were ready we went outside, about 100 of the students had gathered to watch the play. They sat in the sandy soil that serves as the schools playground. The play told the story of some young Palestinian farmers threatened with losing their land to Israeli settlers. They are unafraid of the soldiers and the settlers; they go to their land despite the threats. They are beaten and arrested by Israeli soldiers. From prison one of the men writes his wife a beautiful letter, her reading it to her family inspires other young men to struggle until the prisoners are freed.
After the play we went back into the school, the children were going to have art class. The assignment today was to draw something from their memories of Gaza. The children eagerly set to work with the paper and crayons provided. Some of the little girls drew flowers and trees and houses, others had darker memories, missiles falling from the sky and tanks shooting shells. Both of these are constants of life in Gaza, Israeli attacks and the simple joy of spring days. When the girls finished their drawings they had their pictures taken with their artwork.
Then they made posters. The girls made hand prints on posters vowing not to forget their land. After the children went home for the day we went to visit the display room the school keeps for the children’s art. It was truly amazing. The children had decorated small pillows, made tissue holders, decorated vases, used crayons to color on glass, and many really nice crayon paintings.
The martyrs of land day have not been forgotten in Palestine, the land for which they died has not been forgotten, the occupation does not allow forgetting. I hope that someday these children can visit the land on which the six martyrs were killed, the land that their grandparents were ethnically cleansed from.
Nathan Stuckey is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement.