A school with a difference

By EA Dave, Jerusalem

The first thing that strikes you when you visit this school is just how quiet it is. There are over 160 pupils present, aged between six and fourteen years, but the classrooms bear no resemblance to the near-riotous ones you regularly see in TV dramas! Here, the pupils are studying hard: they clearly value the opportunity to learn.

These pupils’ journey to school will also have been a very different experience to that of young people in the UK. The pupils live in Bedouin communities on dusty outcrops between Jerusalem and Jericho, and the school is located at a place called Khan Al Ahmar. Getting to here can involve walking many kilometres on a dangerous dual-carriageway. No wonder, having got there, they study hard!

The school from the other side of the dual carriageway

The school from the other side of the dual carriageway [Photo: EAPPI/Dave].

These are not the only differences. There’s the building itself. The classrooms are made entirely from rubber tyres! The school opened in 2009, and was built mainly by volunteers and partially with funding from EU governments. For the more recently added classrooms, conventional building materials (bricks, concrete, etc.) were forbidden – so they are made of mud and straw.

The ban on conventional building materials is a consequence of another big difference: unlike this school, no UK schools are likely to be subject to demolition orders. The Rubber-Tyre School is located in Area C of the West Bank, where new buildings are largely prohibited by the Israeli Civil Administration (according to UNOCHAoPt, absolutely no building permissions were granted last year). As a result, many communities are forced to build their homes and schools without Israeli-issued permits. Israeli authorities say that the right to determine planning permission is recognised throughout the world, and if structures are built without permission, they should be demolished. However, the nearby settlement of Kafar Adummim has been built without permission and receives all the normal services from the Israeli state. Yet the School has faced demolition since it first opened in a Palestinian community constantly affected by demolitions. This must be on the teachers’ minds every time people from the nearby settlement, accompanied by soldiers, come on to the site and start taking photographs.

The classrooms

The classrooms [Photo: EAPPI/Dave].

There are sixteen teachers at the school, funded by the Ministry of Education within the Palestinian Authority. None of these teachers are from the five Bedouin communities the school serves, so their journey to work is also a challenge. It can involve up to three bus changes, taking an hour or more. And the ‘illegal’ walk from the bus stop to the school can lead to a £25 equivalent fine. That they are prepared to do this every day is testimony to their commitment. The school’s head teacher says that she could earn the same salary at any school local to where she lives, but comes to the Rubber-Tyre School because of her love for the people and her land of Palestine. She is so happy watching the children’s progress, and hopes that one day some of them will become teachers or doctors and help their community.

Before 2009, young people used to attend schools in Jerusalem, that is until the construction of the separation barrier. This denied them access to the city and meant travelling 15 miles by bus to Jericho. Waiting for buses on the dual carriageway made this journey a dangerous alternative (some children were actually hit by cars whilst crossing this road) and as a consequence most parents stopped sending their children to school altogether.

Happily, seven years later this journey is still not necessary, because the Rubber-Tyre School is still going strong. This is despite all the challenges faced daily: for example, there is no connection to a water supply, and no mains electricity. To make matters worse, recently the sewage pipes for the settlement were located alongside the school.

Nisveen, outside the school gates

Nisveen, outside the school gates [Photo: EAPPI/Dave]. 

Talking to some of the pupils, it is easy to understand why both the teaching staff and the Bedouin community are determined that the school should remain open. Nisveen is now fourteen years old, and has been a pupil since the school first opened. She loves to wear the school uniform, but just wishes it was any colour except green! She is happy that the school day lasts for six hours, enjoys the Arabic and English lessons, but her favourite subject is mathematics. She doesn’t even mind that there is homework to do on most evenings, especially if the subject – you’ve guessed it – is mathematics.  Nisveen hopes that one day the school will have enough places for all the children in the area (and without knowing it, she is of course echoing Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to Education”). Nisveen must leave the school next year when she reaches the age of fifteen, but hopes that one day she can go to university in Jericho. Her dream is to become a teacher at the Rubber-Tyre School. We hardly needed to ask her the subject she wants to teach!