Dr. Arwa: Investing in Gaza’s younger generation to build peace

As a doctor, advocate and educator, she inspired hundreds of women, girls, and boys in Gaza, with her extended giving and utmost vigour. Arwa Nahed al-Rais is a Palestinian doctor, who having spent her childhood in Syria, returned to Gaza in 1995 to embark on a new journey to bring peace. This is her story…

 “Since my childhood, I had always hoped to become a paediatrician, but when I went to university, I received an admission offer to study internal medicine. During this period, I studied the origins of religion and obtained a degree in the Holy Qur’an, Sahihi Bukhari and Muslim. When I returned to Gaza, I taught religion from a room in our house. I started giving lessons to 30 women and 15 boys and girls, but now the number of those attending classes exceeds the hundreds.

I started out with one Qur’an Memorisation Centre for 11 young girls, but today I am supervising 12 centres with around 570 boys and girls from the age of three to post university.  I feel that I have a great influence on boys and girls as their mothers have noticed a positive change in their children’s behaviour.

Our society needs responsible generations of leadership, and I believe that investing in the next generation will bring about positive change for peace. I soon realised that early years work was the most effective to inspire behavioural change, and I began dreaming of opening a school that specialises in providing a behavioural curriculum alongside the national curriculum. I knew I had to make it happen.

I faced difficult times in my life, which did not deter me. Two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and all throughout my treatment, I kept planning to pursue my dream of setting up a children’s school. With my strong will and determination I overcame cancer and went on to obtain a diploma in education with distinction.

We faced many challenges in finding a building, providing stable salaries for staff and it felt like were stood in the face of adversity. In the end, we achieved our goal. Our school has a behavioural curriculum designed to teach children good morals and peace alongside their national curriculum. It is taught to children based on interactive methods such as theatre, colouring and fun energiser games.

I hope that this new generation will be active members of society to serve their country and communities.

I hope the school will expand for all preparatory and secondary grades and be able to accommodate children of all abilities. We are a private non-profit  organisation and all income is reinvested back into the school and its charitable projects.

I would like to tell the whole world that each person has a great energy to give, regardless of whether one is young or old, a woman or a man, with or without a disability. It is important is to have the will and a strong relationship with Allah. I have a profound belief that women and the next generation are able to lead their communities towards good.”