By: Kathy Ramsey

As always the girls are all on time, despite the fact that class starts everyday at 8:30 a.m. during their summer vacation and the UNRWA school is nowhere near any of their homes.

Also, as always, the electricity is off and there’s a cockroach on the floor. As the girls squeal, it’s me who chases it out of the room and into the hall. When we all stop laughing, the girls look at me expectantly–they are ready and eager to learn, or at least have some more fun!!

Today I ask the girls to write about their hopes and dreams, a somewhat overwhelming task for these girls given the obstacles stacked against them. Not only are they barred, as Palestinians, from working in over 70 professions should they graduate from high school, but as girls they face strict social and familial constraints on their freedom.

Next year, at 15 years old, they will write the most important exam of their life-a standard Lebanese government exam which will determine if they can go on to finish high school. Even if they pass the extremely difficult exam, I can’t help but wonder what future there is for them anyway. But the girls are undaunted. When I tell them I want to take their writings back to Canada so that people there can learn about them, they are incredulous and ecstatic.

The moment the pencils and paper are handed out, there is utter silence only interrupted occasionally by questions like “Kathy, how do you spell pharmacist?” or “Teacher, what do you call it when people take over your country and make you leave?” Some students have moved from their usual classroom spots to the back of the room so they can work without any distractions. I’m doing my best not to cry as I watch them all. As the students finish their writings, they are eager for me to read them. Even though I should not be, as I know how amazing these girls are, I am struck by the strength, generosity, and maturity that their writings reflect. These are girls with loads of hopes and dreams, not only for themselves and their loved ones but for everyone on the planet. Their resilience is astounding and I tell myself that if these girls haven’t lost hope for their futures, I can never lose hope for them either.

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