Teacher with Down syndrome breaks stereotypes for Gaza’s mentally disabled students

Israel/Palestine
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Hiba Anis Mustafa Shurafa guides students in her Gaza classroom, instructing them on the art of how to hold a pen and keep a steady hand when writing out letters. She understands the task is challenging because, like her students, Shurafa has Down syndrome.

The 27-year old teacher at the Right to Life Society school in Gaza City was once a student at the institution where she now instructs pupils with mental disabilities. Researchers at Bir Zeit University found that among Palestinians with disabilities in the occupied territories and Lebanese refugee camps, more than one-third never attend school. A further 87 percent will never be employed, making Shurafa and the Right to Life Society all the more unique.

Hiba Shurafa shows students at the Right to Life Society school in Gaza how to make handicrafts (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Hiba Shurafa shows students at the Right to Life Society school in Gaza how to make handicrafts (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Her courses cover the arts, specializing in Palestinian handicrafts. She has also led mathematics and writing classes. Out of the school room, Shurafa supervises on the playground.

Hiba Shurafa plays with a student during recess. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Hiba Shurafa plays with a student during recess. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

“I help the [main] teacher in the class, I let children write on their books,” Shurafa told Mondoweiss. “I’m sure they are happy with me, I write for them on the board and they interact and respond with me.”

Hiba Shurafa guides a student drawing numbers on the classroom wipe board at the Right to Life Society school for mentally disabled students in the Gaza strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Hiba Shurafa guides a student drawing numbers on the classroom wipe board at the Right to Life Society school for mentally disabled students in the Gaza strip. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

For the youngsters studying with Shurafa, her career is a model of successes. “I motivate and strengthen students, giving them lollipops, balloons, and candy,” she said, “for example, I take a child alone and to teach writing and to let him know how to hold a pencil, enabling hand’s muscles to respond the pencil in the right way.”

Hiba Shurafa teaches elementary schoolers during an art class. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Hiba Shurafa teaches elementary schoolers during an art class. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Children playing with Hiba Shurafa during a recess break at the Right to Life Society school in Gaza. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

Children playing with Hiba Shurafa during a recess break at the Right to Life Society school in Gaza. (Photo: Mohammed Asad)

About Mohammed Asad

Mohammad Asad is a photo journalist based in the Gaza Strip where he has covered three wars, and nearly a decade of blockade. He is the 2015 winner of the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit photography “Spirit of Humanity” award, and the 2014 winner of the Abdel Razzaq Badran Photography Award, among other accolades

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2 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    November 30, 2016, 12:04 pm

    Wonderful she can be employed, really usefully, and probably be a better teacher than another who had never had similar problems. Bravo for Shurafa and her school.

  2. Marnie
    December 1, 2016, 12:27 am

    I’m really humbled by the beauty that comes out of Gaza. In the midst of all the devastation and the absence of clean water, air, housing, services, etc., there is a story like this. The zionist regime has that hasbara bit about Gaza could have been ‘the Singapore’ of the middle east (?). Histories like this are priceless and serve as a constant reminder the power and strength of the Palestinian people.

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