We talk about it a lot as educators and parents. A few weeks ago I saw what it really means: to dig deep and push on with a smile on your face and a belief in a better tomorrow, even when faced with war on your doorstep and trauma in your past.
I had been waiting to go to the Zataari refugee camp with Rob (my husband and Representative for UNICEF Jordan) since we arrived in Jordan. The day finally arrived.
We viewed the water sanitation facilities and delivery trucks, which was fascinating. As an educator, however, I was most excited to see some of the schools. I was in my element the minute we walked through the gates. While Rob went to check on the status of classroom desks, play space construction, and water in the latrines, I wanted to see some kids.
I met two incredible principals of the girls’ section of school (girls attend school in the morning, boys in the afternoon). They told me that the Ministry of Education has done an excellent job at getting them all the teaching materials they need and that the school was in good condition. But class sizes are a problem. . . and so we began to walk. . . .
Grade 2 has more than 100 students in a classroom. Girls sit three to a bench, with the overflow sitting on the floor. When I walked in, they burst into a song, which I am sure I was meant to stand and smile at. But I can’t help myself around small people, so I just started dancing all over the place, up the aisles and in the front. The girls laughed and laughed. Kids are the same everywhere! But these children deserve a whole lot more after what they have been through.
Luckily, there are people in their lives like Iman, whom I also met that day. She single-handedly built a library in one of the containers that serve as school rooms. She painted it, collected wood to build shelves, and is now looking for books. She spoke good enough English for me to understand her dreams and passion, and for me to tell her, “It is women like you who will change the world. You already are.” She cried, and I cried, and I also promised I would fill that room with books written in Arabic and English.
So I left with a new mission. If Iman can build a library oasis, if the dedicated teachers can manage to educate 100 students in a classroom without a complaint after walking out of their country affected by war, I could certainly help fill that library.
Within hours of being home, we set up a crowdrise page for donations. I sent out emails to international schools globally telling them the story of Iman and the children I had met. My 14 year old daughter talked it up on her social media networks, and I went to bed that night feeling a fire in my belly that I had not felt since my arrival. A deep passion to make a small difference in an immediate way. It seems the story resonated with many. In just 48 hours, I had reached my target goal, and was able to purchase more than 500 English and Arabic books, which were delivered to the library within the week.
Grit plus humanity–the connection and compassion with those around us–can accomplish astounding results. Yet again, I am filled with a sense of hope for the future of a region plagued by conflict and stress.