ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Elham Palestine: Overcoming the Odds

Huthayfa Jalamna

Post submitted by Elham Palestine executive director Huthayfa Jalamna and communication specialist Alla Atari. Elham is a nationwide program extending throughout Gaza and the West Bank that aims to improve the physical, mental, psychological, and social well-being of Palestinian children and enhance their learning environments to become more conducive to that well-being. It is the Middle East setting of whole child partner Learning for Well-Being and focuses on the principles and framework developed by the Universal Education Foundation.

Imagine growing up under one of the most controversial political conflicts in the world. Today millions of Palestinian children are spending their childhood living in unstable and harsh environments to the detriment of their learning and development. Palestinian principals, teachers, counselors, and even students are striving to provide a healthy and stimulating learning environment despite the lack of resources and the stressful atmosphere.

The Elham Palestine program works to stimulate, recognize, and implement inspiring initiatives that contribute to a learning environment conducive to the social, psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being of children. Elham, renowned for its local engagement and multi-stakeholder partnerships, has adopted a participatory approach that stimulates change from the ground up. Elham utilizes local grassroots efforts or initiatives (PDF) created by principals, teachers, counselors, and students as models and catalysts for change. The process doesn't stop there. An extensive evaluation of these initiatives engages not only the local community, but also the private sector, civil society, government, and most important, young people. This national engagement emphasizes the importance of societal responsibility in educational reform and change and emphasizes the importance of enabling young people to be active participants in the decision-making process.

Young people are at the heart of the Elham Palestine program. From the beginning, young people played an active role in the consultation and design of the program. One of the most notable contributions was the Voice of Children, a regional survey that relied on qualitative methods to capture and share young people's views on how various learning environments affect their well-being. These surveys led to the development of the Elham Nomination Themes, which include teaching, learning methods and assessment strategies, safe and stimulating educational environment, holistic health, and student participation and leadership. The themes were created based on a need reflected from the Voice of Children survey in the educational system. Today, young people play a vital role throughout the duration of the program. They are key participants in evaluating initiatives on both the local and national level. Young people are also eligible to submit their initiatives for nomination in the Elham program, to further empower the youth and engage them as active citizens and partners for change.

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