Nurturing Palestinian Young Minds

Nurturing Palestinian Young Minds
Annika Cobb, Innovation Intern

The Power of Art and Education: The Story of Tanweer Center in State of Palestine

Beit Ummar, State of Palestine 

In the heart of Beit Ummar lies a sanctuary for children – the Tanweer Center, a place where young minds can thrive in a safe and nurturing environment. Muna, a former teacher and founder, poured her heart and soul into creating this haven in 2019, after seeing the dire need for a space where children can learn and explore their passions. 

Children, finding no outlets for their energy on the streets, often turned to social media for online connections due to the absence of productive activities and support in the community. Recognizing this trend, Muna took the initiative to establish a space where children could gather to learn and pursue their hobbies. In 2019, the Tanweer Center evolved into a public charity to enhance affordability and accessibility for a larger number of children. Since 2018, 400 children have benefited from its services. “We have many successful stories for children who increased their marks after coming to the center. They are striving for a better future,” says Muna.

The community of Beit Ummar, though resilient, continues to face economic hardship and socio-political challenges. It is located in the West Bank in the State of Palestine, an area that has experienced increasing poverty rates and economic stagnation due to challenges stemming from factors such as the Israeli occupation, which has impacted various aspects of the economy, alongside low foreign direct investment in the region and the economic consequences of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine (World Bank, 2022). Children are affected by the economic pressure faced by the community and the violence that prevails on a daily basis. Muna remains steadfast in her belief that education is the key to breaking this cycle of despair, and she remains committed to creating a brighter future for the children of Beit Ummar. She explains that without a safe place for playing and learning, children end up on the streets and are subject to danger. “Children are affected but don’t speak about it, they show lots of anger and there's a lot of violence.”

That’s why the Tanweer Center was created – to take children off the streets and off their phones. Children face a number of challenges from accessing education and high rates of school drop-outs largely due to poverty, unstable households and the political situation in the State of Palestine (UNICEF, 2018). Nevertheless, education is highly regarded in Palestine. “Palestinians love education. The parents sell their lands to pay for the university education of their children. Almost in every house, you can find people that are educated,” says Muna.

Children playing in the library at the Tanweer Center

Resilience and crowdfunding in the face of adversity

In 2021, the Tanweer Center began their campaign for the Tadamon Crowdfunding Academy, Let’s Go Reading. Through their campaign, they raised $6,000 allowing them to support around 50 more children and better equip their library with more books. They were even able to purchase appliances such as a projector and a whiteboard. The Tanweer Center is financed by fees paid by children’s families, but these are not much, so the organization also relies on donations. This makes crowdfunding an important tool for the center. “I am very thankful for crowdfunding and we hope that we will be able to do something even bigger than what we did last year,” says Muna. 

Like most civil society organizations around the world, the Tanweer Center was shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health safety precautions. This greatly limited the support they were able to provide to children in the community as well as funding for their organization. They took part in the Tadamon Crowdfunding Academy during the pandemic which helped them find alternative sources of funding during dire economic situations. On top of receiving donations through the campaign, the Tanweer Center gained important skills in developing donor relationships and how to maintain them.

The enlightening power of art 

Tanweer means to enlighten or illuminate. At the Tanweer Center, the name says it all - a place where young minds are ignited with knowledge and inspiration. As Muna explains, the mission of the center is to "enlighten the minds of the children to open more visions for a better future." This vision is brought to life through the teaching of English, Arabic, and the transformative power of art. While English and Arabic are fundamental to education and communication skills, Muna's deep belief in the importance of art is what truly sets the Tanweer Center apart. “I believe that art is a good way to decrease pressure, so children can express themselves.” Through art, children gain a newfound sense of confidence and pride in their abilities. 

Azhar doing art with young students

Art has proven to be a powerful tool in shaping the lives of young people in the community and Azhar’s story is just one example of how the art classes at the Tanweer Center have transformed lives. Azhar was 24 when she first started visiting the Tanweer Center. She had just divorced after a 6-month marriage and was in a challenging situation. Without a high school degree and no formal skills, Azhar was forced to stay at home most days. With some encouragement from her mother, she came to the Tanweer Center and quickly fell in love with drawing and art. Her skills improved quickly through the classes and now, Azhar is an artist who shares her work through exhibitions and social media. She has also become an instructor for the children at the center. “We feel happy when we see such stories,” says Muna about Azhar, “We are combining joy with education.” 

The transforming force of education 

The Tanweer Center is a haven for emotional and intellectual growth. The library sessions provide not only a safe space for children to learn, but psychosocial and emotional support, empowering them with the tools to tackle life’s challenges and think critically. The center teaches English, in partnership with the Excellence Center, as well as Arabic. Its impact on the children’s educational development, confidence and resilience is evident in the children that attend the classes such as Elina and Rabih. Rabih, an 11-year old boy from the community, started visiting the Tanweer Center in 2018 not knowing the alphabet or how to read. Now he is 16-years-old and loves writing. His progress has not only improved his communication skills but also his confidence, enabling him to more freely communicate over social media and make new friends. 

English class at the Tanweer Center

Another example is Elina, who was 11-years-old when she started coming to the Tanweer Center. Elina already had an advanced level of English from speaking with her relatives who lived in Germany and the United States. Her parents cannot speak English with her so they encouraged Elina to continue her learning journey by joining the English classes at the center. Lasting only a couple of weeks, these classes were taught by volunteers from the United States. Elina immersed herself in the learning environment, engaging with older students and volunteer instructors. When the last class ended, Elina was so distraught that tears streamed down her face – a heartwarming reminder of the deep emotional connections that form between students and teachers at the Tanweer Center, and their profound impact on the community.

In addition to the classes at the center, Muna also takes students on cultural and science field trips around the State of Palestine to expand the students' perspective on the world and show them their rich culture. For example, Muna and students have gone to a historical museum in Bethlehem where they learned about agriculture and sustainable practices for water recycling and fish farming. They have also attended a play to promote arts and creativity. These activities are important in showing the children of Beit Ummar what is possible through education and creativity.

Muna with the children on a field trip to the historical museum 

Despite the challenges of running a civil society organization in the State of Palestine, Muna’s persistence keeps expanding the scope of the Tanweer Center. She envisions creating programs for youth who were not able to go to university and provide vocational training that combines art with business skills. Her determination to enlighten and empower the children of Beit Ummar will make the community a more resilient place.