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Tahanee: Teaching Job Skills to Young Women

West Bank and Gaza, January 18, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Dura, West Bank — Tahanee Darabee's intellectual interests have always veered toward applied science and technology. But when it came time for her to enroll in high school in the mid-1990s, there was no technical school in her hometown of Dura to satisfy her interests. So she attended Dura's secondary girls school, took the standard variety of courses, and went on to earn a college degree in computer engineering.

Today she's helping the next generation take advantage of an opportunity she never had. She's one of ten teachers at the new Dura Girls Vocational School, the showpiece among nine schools that Mercy Corps has built in this sprawling West Bank town since 2003.

"I dreamed about this," says Tahanee, a cheery and articulate 24-year-old who is in her second year of teaching office equipment maintenance and repair. "But it wasn't here yet."

Last May, the school graduated its first class of 13 students. That number should grow with time as the two-year school, which last year filled 64 of a possible 120 desks, becomes more widely known. Graduates typically go on to college to further their study or seek jobs in fields such as computer maintenance or electronics.

Headmaster Majeda Amr says the skills that students learn here are in demand. Dura, an 80,000-person town made up of hundreds of ancient villages, needs people who can fix an office copier, patch an electronics network or get a bank of computers to speak to each other, she says.

"This school is so important because our community has a leakage of technical people," she says. "We need all these jobs."

Yet despite that need, Dura's vocational school is the first technical school for either boys or girls nearby. Before, students had to ride two buses to reach a co-educational technical school in Hebron. And even that school didn't offer as wide a range of courses as this one.

Accordingly, the new school has made quite a splash in Dura. Its architecture and appearance have gained praise from the local population. The main building is shaped like a horseshoe and wraps around a well-tended courtyard — an oasis of green in a mostly dun-colored landscape. "When anyone visits the school, they say 'Ahhh…'," says Amr.

The first-rate space attracts meetings and seminars beyond the normal school schedule. One afternoon in late May, a period where students come to school only for morning exams, a couple dozen older teenage girls were pecking at keyboards in a well-furnished computer lab as part of an executive secretary training.

Tahanee was one of their instructors. She's been teaching ever since completing a stint fixing computers in a Hebron repair shop shortly after college. She says she enjoys the opportunity to deepen her knowledge in technology and transfer it to bright young women from her town.

She also says she's committed to teaching despite the tenuous state of education in the West Bank. Palestinian teachers went on strike in September and October after they hadn't been paid in six months — a result of the ongoing moratorium on most Western aid to the Palestinian Authority, triggered by Hamas' legislative victory in January 2006. Another casualty has been equipment the school has been expecting from USAID, the international development arm of the U.S. State Department. The school's communications lab, for example, still lacks digital electronic kits, oscilloscopes, wave analyzers, soldering stations and other equipment.

But Tahanee didn't hesitate when asked if she'd rather return to the private sector. She, and her fellow teachers, "would not think of taking another job."

Instead, they continue to help Palestinian girls acquire skills they'll need to find jobs of their own.