The domino effect of female education in Zamba Bedouin community

Up in the mountains near Jerusalem, above the Area C village of Al Za’ayem, is a small Bedouin cluster called Zamba.

Donkeys, goats and chickens graze on spring grass and dotted one room huts, draped in plastic covering, line the mountaintop. A family’s possessions are stored in their ceilings and mattresses and blankets for sleeping are stacked to the side of the room during the day.

Urban sprawls are visible all around � the spires of Jerusalem in one direction, along with the ungoverned Shu’fat refugee camp; the urban settlement city Ma’ale Adumim to the east and in the north, the Palestinian town ‘Anata.

But life in Zamba feels a long way removed from any of those places and villagers comment they are not particularly touched by Israeli monitoring, unlike their neighbours in Za-ayem.

Several days a week, women of all ages in the community walk over to a small building, designated a classroom, for an Arabic writing lesson.

The classes are facilitated by Zamba-born Nibal Abdallah Hasan Awad Zer’l, 21.

Nibal grew up walking across two mountains and two valleys to go to school. It would take her four hours.

While taking the Tawjihi, Nibal’s father died. This threw her life upside down.

The Tawjihi is the final exam of high school. The results of every Palestinian student are published publicly and used to determine whether a student can attend university and even what courses they may take there.

Nibal did not pass.

When he [her father] died I learned what difficulties are, in a time I needed him and didn’t have him. I suffered, Nibal said.

At the same time, she also started experiencing severe stomach pains.

Members of the community, led by her uncle, decided to treat Nibal with traditional hot iron therapy.

They told me hot iron method was the best way I listened to them, she explained.

They’d bring a black nail and place it in wood, then they heat it on the stove for an hour. I had it done three times, and there are still marks here, said Nabil, gesturing across her stomach.

They would cover a person for two hours with blankets until they sweat so as to be healed from this.

They say this treatment is old and they are proud of it.

I think this kind of treatment is against the law, because the marks are still on my body.

Social workers found out what was happening and referred Nibal’s situation to the community-based health organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS).

PMRS sent her for upper endoscopy and found more than 80% of her stomach had an infection. They began treating her with medication which cleared it up.

Had it not been for them, my life would have been ruined, Nibal said.

The infection would have spread more and this area would have had to be removed.

After making this contact with Nibal, PMRS suggested she run a project in her community. That is where these classes spawned from.

Education is often rudimentary in Bedouin communities and illiteracy rates are above average.

A 2013 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report describes:

Education in the Bedouin communities is often insufficient. It is plagued by poor environmental conditions and educational quality. These poor conditions have discouraged many Bedouins from completing their basic education, leading to a relatively high percentage of illiteracy in addition to a high drop-out rate, especially among females.

Nibal has found purpose in teaching other women in her community. She explained the practical skills it enables in them.

I am happy to teach them, [to help] them to write, although they never learned when [they were] younger.

It’s important for them to know where they are when they go somewhere, to know [how] to read when the doctor gives them medicine, to write their name.

To read expiration dates, to know where they are exactly when they go somewhere.

She also notes a positive impact on herself.

I used to do nothing with the time I now teach them in, Nabil said. There’s something keeping me busy now, it’s positive.

Nibal is motivated to succeed in order to help her mother and would like to retake the Tawjihi.

I’d like to study something, even if I had to redo Tawjihi several times to help my mum, to show her that even if my dad’s gone, we’re here for her.

The women attending Nibal’s classes range from 25 to 47 and include her own aunts.

At first, the male authorities in Zamba were unsure about the classes.

They said, why would you teach them at this age? Nibal remembers.

But then they started seeing it in a better way.

The criticism doesn’t deter Nibal.

This is something I’m really proud of and what people say doesn’t matter to me.

For Heijar Saadeh, who attends Nibal’s classes, they are significantly impacting her life. She can now help her son with his homework and write her own name.

We didn’t know these letters or [how] to write or hold a pencil, we learned and had a lot of fun.

My son would come home from school and I wouldn’t know how to help him, but now I know how to write him the alphabet.

Saadeh recalls a positive response from men in Zamba.

They said let our wives and daughters learn, she said.

The women seem to be enjoying the class, all wanting to demonstrate how they can recognise and read the Arabic letters and corresponding words.

One woman’s young daughter and son had accompanied her to the class and played on the carpet beside the women. The inter-generational women helped one another with the work, demonstrating solidarity across their close-knit group.

The women are very cooperative together, [they] respect each other a lot, they help each other if they need anything, observed another teacher at the class.

They have no arrogance and respect each other.

Source: Palestine Monitor