Kid of the Year Finalist Lujain Alqattawi, 13, Teaches English to Kids in Refugee Camps

For most children, the early stage COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 meant one factor: boredom. Many took the prospect to start out a brand new interest, watch superhero films, or spend extra time on TikTok. However Lujain Alqattawi, a 13-year-old eighth grader in Maryland, noticed the pause as a chance to do one thing totally different.

“With COVID we have been simply sitting at residence and I felt like I wished to assist folks or make an influence,” Lujain says. “I used to be simply pondering like, what can I do to assist folks normally? What do I’ve?” A bilingual teenager of Palestinian heritage, Lujain realized one thing she had that others lacked: language expertise. Impressed by her mother, who has taught English as a second language for 20 years, and by her household historical past—her father emigrated to the U.S. from Jordan as a Palestinian refugee—Lujain determined she would train Arabic-speaking refugees English.
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Drawing on household ties to Palestinian refugee communities, Lujain’s mother and father made contact with the principal of a college in Jordan. Whereas the adults sorted the logistics, the teenager started working designing a syllabus and lesson plans. She could be tutoring 9- and 10-year-old Palestinian ladies, and so tailor-made her classes appropriately, incorporating movies and emojis she knew they’d get pleasure from. And identical to that, her non-profit, Sparkle, was born. “‘Sparkle’ means data,” she says. “It outshines every thing.”

Each Friday for six months, Lujain would end her week of distant college and get to work making ready 30-minute newbie’s English lessons. Then each Saturday, she’d spend her mornings on Zoom, beaming each the teachings and her infectious persona 6,000 miles internationally to teams of college ladies in Jordan.

The mission’s objective wasn’t simply to impart a brand new talent, Lujain says, however “to empower ladies to be extra assured.”

Lujain is clever, pushed and curious. She’s additionally a chatterbox. It wasn’t arduous for her to attach with the 30-odd fourth and fifth graders she was educating remotely; they talked fantasy books and anime, performed Jeopardy, and did roleplay, all in a mix of elementary English and the scholars’ native Arabic.

Operating the teachings by herself was powerful. The women didn’t have their very own laptops, and typically their web would lower out. Lujain needed to adapt. However each time she felt like giving up, it was the small wins which pushed her to maintain going. “It was actually satisfying to see how joyful they have been and the way I made a distinction of their lives,” she says.

Lujain’s mother, Ahlam, gave her recommendation on the way to construction the teachings, however the actions, studying supplies, and syllabus have been all the teenager’s personal creation.

Regardless of the geographical distance separating instructor and college students, Lujain acknowledged features of her personal tradition within the ladies’ lives. “I’d hear some background noises and their mother’s cooking and stuff like that,” she says. “It’s such as you really feel the ambiance within the background.” It’s a scene she is aware of effectively from her treasured childhood visits to Jordan, residence to her grandpa and 10 aunts and uncles.

Sparkle didn’t simply convey Lujain nearer to the ladies she was tutoring—it constructed a deep understanding of her household historical past. Like her college students, Lujain’s father, Mohammad, was born a refugee in a rustic that was not his personal. Jordan hosts roughly 2 million Palestinians, greater than every other nation, and 18% of them dwell in 10 camps hosted by the United Nations Reduction and Works Company for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The camps have been set as much as home the inflow of Palestinian refugees following the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948—often known as ‘Al Nakba’ or ‘the disaster’, which noticed 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their properties—and within the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Struggle. Talbieh camp, near Jordan’s capital, was Mohammad’s residence for the primary 20 years of his life.

“I grew up in there,” Mohammad says. He attended one of many 161 UNRWA colleges arrange in Jordan for Palestinian refugees, “the identical colleges the place Lujain is educating these ladies.” By the point Mohammad reached maturity, his father had saved sufficient to get the household into everlasting housing outdoors of the camps. Because of encouragement from his school professors, Mohammad utilized to check within the U.S. There, he met his spouse Ahlam, began a household, and constructed a profession as an engineer.

With out training, Lujain’s father wouldn’t be the place he’s as we speak. Lujain is aware of this. It’s why she gave up her Saturday mornings for six months to tutor ladies she had by no means met. Her college students, like Mohammad, began life on the again foot—Palestinian refugees in Jordan usually tend to dwell in poverty than the final inhabitants, and plenty of lack entry to the identical rights as naturalized residents.

However as ladies, Lujain’s college students face one more barrier. Regardless of their excessive attainment ranges, Palestinian ladies in Jordan, each in and out of doors the camps, are almost twice as seemingly as boys to drop out of elementary college. A mix of things, together with cultural attitudes, imply ladies’ educational skills are sometimes underestimated. “I really feel like ladies aren’t provided that a lot thought normally,” Lujain says. “‘Oh, she’s a lady, simply no matter.’ Like, no. Women are succesful as a lot as boys and much more in some stuff.”

Lujain determined to give attention to ladies to interrupt down the obstacles holding them again. The truth that they felt extra comfy round their 13-year-old instructor didn’t harm. “My thought was to haven’t adults educating them however individuals who can relate to them,” she says. “Teenage ladies.” Lujain now desires to get her Arabic-speaking feminine buddies on board to develop the mission and make a better influence.

In some ways, Sparkle was a two-way strategy of studying. Lujain’s syllabus began small however acquired greater—“We began with me, myself, and I, then my household, my neighborhood, my neighborhood, the world, the universe,” Lujain says. As the teenager expanded her college students’ horizons, they too broadened Lujain’s perspective. “She realized that folks outdoors her world dwell a distinct life,” says Ahlam, “And that we’re so privileged right here in the US.” Lujain agrees: “It’s helped me develop.”

The teenager has huge plans for Sparkle’s subsequent part. “I want to begin an internet site the place we are able to present sources,” she says. She’s eager to assist a recent bunch of scholars, but in addition progress the unique class to the following degree—”Sparkle 2.0,” she calls it. She’s utilized for grants to fund laptops for the ladies to ease distant studying, and she or he plans to run in-person lessons when her household subsequent visits Jordan. The mission has made her take into account how she will be able to influence her rapid environment. “I used to be additionally pondering of doing one thing with refugee ladies right here to assist them adapt to their setting,” she says. “Not simply educating them English, however to assist them with their emotional power.”

Maybe probably the most significant end result of Lujain’s arduous work is the friendships she has fashioned with folks she would by no means have met have been it not for Sparkle. Other than a supply of memes and jokes, the group’s Whatsapp chat offers an area for Lujain to trace the ladies’ enchancment. “I just lately simply talked to them and so they have been extra fluent, they may categorical themselves higher, and so they have been extra assured,” she says.

Lujain has actually achieved her objective to carry up the ladies in her class. What she’s most excited for is their futures: I really feel that we’re producing the following era of lady docs, engineers and these jobs that folks often don’t image a lady as.”


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