Palestinian children in the U.S. Congress

Palestinian children in the U.S. Congress

By Haneen Abed Elnaby, We Are Not Numbers

From practicing her speech in front of the mirror to representing Palestinian children in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress: That’s a long journey in many ways, especially for a teenager from the Gaza Strip. But this is one of the few “dream-come-true” stories that prove even the seemingly impossible can happen.

Lama Ramzy Abed, 14, attends UNRWA’s al-Mamounia School in Gaza City. An ambitious girl, she responded immediately when she heard there was a competition sponsored by American NGO Rebuilding Alliance to educate American politicians on conditions in Gaza. All of the UNRWA middle schools participated and Lama was chosen to represent hers after interviewing with two of her teachers.

Lama and her mother, Amal

Lama and her mother, Amal

They asked Lama in the interview, "What is peace?” That is a big question and Lama had never really what about what living in peace would mean. But she rose to the challenge and answered, "Peace is holding each other’s hands so we can change things for the better and spread love."

Fluent in English, Lama learned how to speak English so well by reading books, watching movies and listening to music. She also writes in both Arabic and English dreams of becoming a journalist. After Lama heard about this competition, her dream expanded to include telling the U.S. Congress that, “Palestinians love peace.”

She expressed," I am afraid that my dream will be in vain since I am not sure if I will travel because there are many difficulties regarding Erez Crossing." She added, "I am afraid of my own future since Gaza has an unknown future."

Lama said, "I wish this opportunity will be an exceptional point or stage in my whole life, and it can provide me with the courage to achieve many dreams in my life." She thinks this chance will help her to develop her English language skills, and she can succeed if she insists to do it. She also believes that the American Congress will believe her, because they are humans and their job is to spread peace all over the world. Her main goal is to tell the whole world that Palestinians are different from what is common in the media. She wants to tell the Congress, "Palestinians are not terrorists, but are human beings."

The other kid, Ayser An-Nawajja, 16, from Wanni School in Susiya village. He wishes to study political science in the future. He went to speak to the U.S. Congress three times before, and his message to the Congress is to show them how the people and the children in the Susiya village suffer from the repeated attacks by the Israeli settlers.

Ayser explained in a previous speech with the Congress, "We really suffer in our everyday life." Ayser's experience with the congress was good since there are many people in the Congress who react and support Palestinians.

The third kid is Ahmed An-Nawajja, 12, from Susiya School in Susiya village. Ahmed's message is telling the U.S. Congress about his school which will be destroyed by the Israelis. Susiya village is about to be destroyed by Israel, so Ahmed wants to make the congress see the real hardship that they are dealing with. His message is to make the Congress help them by calling off the decision of destroying the whole village.

Ahmed and Ayser, in the cockpit before taking off for the United States

Ahmed and Ayser, in the cockpit before taking off for the United States

Regarding parents, the biggest fear for Lama's mom, Amal is that this is the first time she will be away from her husband, and she will be with her young kid in a big country for the first time. She is always encouraging her kid to be open to other cultures, but she has to be proud of her own identity and culture. As a mom who represents all other parents whose their noble message is showing that Palestinian children suffer in the UNRWA schools due to US government's elimination of all American aid for UNRWA.

She added, "I also believe if one reaches to a high position by working in the Congress, of course, he will believe in humanity since this is his job."

"Actually, Gaza is so small, but if you look inside it, you will know that Gazans are simple people and they love peace, so you will extremely protect it and solve all its problems," Amal expressed.

Amal also said that she will always supports her girl even if she wants to travel outside the country in the future to continue her studies. Actually, Lama was so excited since this is the first time that she will be out of Gaza, and she told her mom that she wanted to take a selfie with the wheeled luggage, but it is not allowed to use for passengers through Erez Crossing, so they have to use a handbag instead.

Due to the difficulties that they were facing during the past six months, Lama told me, “if they told us to use a plastic bag, I will use it as I want to travel to achieve my goal, I don’t mind relinquishing of the basic rights for the sake of my dream.

On the other hand, Heyam, Ahmed's mother, wish to deliver a speech on behalf of all other parents in Susiya village in the U.S. Congress. Her message is to tell the people all over the world that she wants to see her son as a doctor in the future, but she is afraid that the school will be destroyed. She insists that even if they destroy the school, they will teach their children. They only ask for a basic right which is learning.

The group at the airport

The group at the airport

Regarding Gaza and West Bank trips. The saddest part through the whole six months according to Lama and her mom is when they applied for the non- objection paper for crossing Jordan three times. Jordan accepted it the first time, but Israel rejected the Israeli permit. The second time, Jordan rejected the non- objection paper, and Israel approved the Israeli permit. The third time is not known until now. Another difficulty was when they went to Jerusalem for the US visa interview in the US Consulate General in Jerusalem. They had to go there get back by the bus. They were not allowed to even to take a breath of fresh air from their own country. “Actually, there was a woman who was a little bit tired, but the bus driver was instructed not to stop for any reason. I just wish we had visited the old city and pray at the Dome of the Rock,” Amal added. Unlike the people in the west bank since they don't need an Israeli permit or non-objection paper, travel and visa procedures were easier for the Susiya team. The whole team is very thankful for Rebuilding Alliance for giving them this ideal chance to represent the Palestinian people. Lama's mother is surprised that there are people like Donna who care for Palestinians. "Donna made me believe that there is still humanity in this world, and I hope that I will find people in the U.S. Congress who have some humanity like Donna, and that they will hear us," Lama's mom said.