Xan Rice in New Statesman:
Hanan al-Hroub was a poorly paid teacher on the West Bank. Then she won the $1m Global Teacher Prize. On a cold Monday morning in central London in late November, a 44-year-old Palestinian woman reflected on the dramatic recent changes to her life. At the start of the year the only foreign country that Hanan al-Hroub had visited was Jordan. She spoke very little English. Though she stood out among the teachers in the West Bank – often wearing a clown’s wig over her headscarf and a red nose while in class – she was just as poorly paid as the rest. Now, Hroub is a celebrity at home and a globetrotter. In Vatican City she has had an audience with Pope Francis. In New York she spoke in the UN General Assembly hall at the invitation of Ban Ki-moon.
…Hroub explained that her approach to education was formed long before she ever became a teacher. One of 11 siblings, she was born at the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, in the West Bank. There was only one female doctor in the city and Hroub dreamed of becoming the second. But her plans were ruined in the 1990s when Palestinian universities were closed during the first intifada – the uprising against Israel. Instead, she got married and concentrated on raising her five children. In October 2000, at the start of the second intifada, Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint shot at her husband’s car as he drove with their twin daughters, then aged nine. Though he was only slightly wounded, and the girls escaped harm, they were deeply disturbed by the incident, becoming withdrawn and prone to bursts of aggression. “They did not want to go to class, or to mingle with people. At night they would wake up
in fear,” Hroub said.The girls’ teachers had no training to help children affected by violence, so Hroub decided to keep her daughters at home for a while. During breaks in the curfew, she would rush to the shops to buy scissors, cardboard, pens and other items that she could use to make games. “A corner of my home became their new class, full of cards and colours.” Being able to play and learn in a “safe space” made the girls happy, reduced their tension and helped them overcome the trauma. Hroub realised then that she could make a difference in society and decided to study to become a teacher.