OPT: Refugee stories - The dreamers of today are the builders of tomorrow

Tulkarem, August 2007. Tulkarem refugee camp had a date with joy on Wednesday 18 August when four of the camp students brought happiness to the hearts of residents, eliciting smiles from the faces of young and old alike. Rahma, Huda, Mohammad and Shaima had become heroes in the eyes of their relatives and other people in the camp. Each of them had excelled in their "tawjihi" secondary school examinations, obtaining grades exceeding ninety per cent despite the harsh living conditions they experience on a daily basis.

The environment and surroundings in the camp were not at all conducive to helping the youngsters to focus during their studies; however, their strong determination enabled them to turn things around. Even the landscape gave a helping hand. "It was hard to focus because the camp alleys are very narrow and children play there throughout the day. There were many wedding parties too that were also extremely loud, so I used to walk up a hill near the camp and stay there for hours just to be able to focus better," explained Rahma Adnan Bader. "Studying was not at all easy for me; it was very challenging. Thanks to God, I was able to accomplish what I worked hard for," she added.

In contrast, Huda used to use those same small alleys in the camp as her study space. Her mother accompanied us to where her daughter used to review her schoolwork. "Huda spent days and nights studying hard. When the afternoon sun was overhead I would bring a piece of cloth and hang it over the place where she was sitting in order to protect her from the heat," she explained.

Shaima, who is one of a family of 11, found a place to study in an old, unfinished building next to her home.

According to Muhammad's father, "We sometimes forgot that he was in the house. He isolated himself in the sitting room, for days and nights on end, eating, drinking and sleeping in the same spot so as not to waste time doing anything but studying."

The eyes of each of the parents are filled with tears, although this time with tears of joy, which they haven't experienced for years. They all agree that their sweat and effort and that of their children have been worthwhile.

Today, in the light of the prevailing economic conditions, some of the parents find themselves with no way of fulfilling their son's or daughter's desire to continue with their education. "I fear that this is the end of Shaima's educational journey. I was able to help her older sister to finish school and go to college, but right now we are not in a position financially to support Shaima to continue her own education", says Shaima's mother, whose husband earns less than 4 dollars a day.

Nevertheless, each of these 4 students can be proud of their achievements and can stand as an example to other youth in the camp that education is a worthwhile endeavour recognized by everybody. Rahma is going to continue studying physics; Shaima dreams of getting a degree in medical test analysis; Huda would like to become an economist; and Muhammad hopes to be an engineer. They have big dreams. Even if their paths are filled with obstacles and difficulties, their determination to make it is greater and stronger than the challenges they face. They might be the dreamers of today, but they are definitely the builders of tomorrow.

By Maysa Gayyusi