Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave

Im Ibrahim

If we look at the title of this story, we are inspired by the wisdom of the past, which urges us  always to seek knowledge regardless of age or circumstances, however harsh or difficult they may be.  We should seek knowledge from birth to death, turning our back on excuses or circumstances which can make us prisoners of ignorance.

This leads us to tell you a story – about a mother who showed perseverance and ambition in the face of oppression and suffering, which started with the attack on  her village of Beit Jabrin in 1948. Fearing for their lives,  her family were forced to relocate from Beit Jibrin to the Aza refugee camp in the north of Bethlehem, named after the main family in the village.

Umm Ibrahim received a primary education  up to second grade in an UNRWA school and then left to learn how to sew in order to help look after her brothers following the illness of her mother.  This gave an opportunity for the rest of her brothers to learn to read and write, while they were living in difficult circumstances.  She, however, was left with feelings of frustration and inferiority because she herself had not mastered reading and writing.

When she was fifteen she married a man from Khirbet Zakariya, a village southwest of Bethelehem.  She moved there and gave birth to six boys and one girl.  It is worth mentioning that Khirbet Zakariya was as poor as the Aza refugee camp.  Located in the centre of the Israeli settlements and an army camp called Gush Etzion, the families there are forbidden to build homes and only permitted tin roofs, which are cold in winter and hot in summer.

Although so poverty stricken, the village is just as beautiful as her village of Beit Jibrin had been.  With perseverance and equanimity, the villagers face the same daily struggle against the attempts by the settlers and the army to condemn it to the same fate as Beit Jibrin, with permits from the Israeli Department for Planning and Building to destroy all the homes there.   The order is still pending in the courts today.

Like any other Palestinian mother, Umm Ibrahim helped her husband bring up their children and worked with him in the fields to produce crops which could be sold to make a good living.  When we asked her about her rôle, she said ‘I’m farming, like the rest of the women – I wake up early, tidy the house, pray, prepare breakfast, prepare the milk to make cheese.  For harvest, I cultivate the ground and then sell what I harvest, which I enjoy and find very satisfying.   Sometimes it was difficult to sell produce and my children were reluctant to do this as they regarded it as humiliating, but I was determined to harvest the crops and had no intention of wasting all that time and effort! That’s what I used to say to try to convince my children.’

In early February 2010, Umm Ibrahim went to Ghirass Centre with her youngest son, Osama, and spoke to the director of her concerns about his education. After his initial assessment, Osama was introduced to classes in Special Remedial Education in Learning Disabilities and Delayed Mode.  One of the conditions of the integration of Osama in these classes was the presence of a parent at all of them, at least in the early stages.  With his mother in the class with him, she became  motivated to learn to read and write herself, especially after she accompanied her husband on Umrah and lost her way because she was unable to read the street signs.

Ghirass Centre provided an easy opportunity to satisfy this motivation to learn, and knowing that the common factor in children’s learning difficulties with delayed mode is the limited learning of their parents, particularly the mothers, it investigated the number of other women who might also be keen to learn.

Early in August 2010 Umm Ibrahim joined the literacy programme with 8 other women.  She was very motivated and had the full support of her family.  The programme used the same strategies for literacy as those followed by the Centre for children with learning difficulties, focusing on the structure of knowledge and concepts of time, place, categories, comparative thinking and awareness of voice and vocabulary.  Following this stage, students then move on to characters.

The extreme poverty faced by all the women created difficulties for them.  Nevertheless the determination and patience of Umm Ibrahim meant that 2011 saw a different person to the Umm Ibrahim of 1948 to 2010 in her literacy, spelling and dictation. Talking about her feelings after the start of her education, she said that she now has increased confidence;  she can recognise all the letters, although she reads slowly.  She goes over her lessons at home and encourages other women to join these courses, having already signed up for another session in literacy this term.

With all this effort and responsibility, we asked her how she manages to divide her time.  She said that she makes sure she sleeps no more than 6 hours a day and divides the remaining 18 hours between her domestic duties, farming, education and her social responsibilities as a mother and grandmother.

So we are proud of another success story, told by a woman with hope, optimism and a love of life in spite of the difficulties and suffering she has endured.  She has nevertheless conquered all these challenges with great courage.

Our best wishes go to Umm Ibrahim and our encouragement to conquer her future challenges.

…… Please read our other stories!

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