The Shatila Stable—I Mean, School
By Ahmad Abu Shlleyh and Walid Balkis

In our crowded camp there is only one school, Jericho school. If you only knew what school was like! The number of students per class varies between 45 and 50 sometimes even reach 55. In each class there are 5 desks, half of which are not fit for use. We sit three or four to a desk, and our classroom consists only of seats and a blackboard. We study four hours a day, and don’t have any music or art lessons, no singing or sport. The playground during recess is as crowded as the Day of Judgment, because it is very small and our school is packed with students. Jericho, like the rest of the camps and like our homes, doesn’t have any library or bookshelves. We never read anything besides our schoolbooks.

The teachers don’t explain the lessons very well, maybe because of the crowded conditions, since teaching 50 is very different from teaching 20. We are forbidden to speak, just as we are at home. We don’t have the right to defend ourselves when we have been accused of something. The language of force and violence is the language used at school. In each class there is a monitor whose job is to observe the students and to tell on anyone who talks or even breathes. Without waiting to hear the students out, the teacher immediately gives the student a beating. Each word that the student attempt to get out to defend himself means another whack on the hand or sometimes even the head.

Often the teacher expels the students from a class as soon as he walks in, because he doesn’t like them. He uses all kinds of abusive language. He has a nickname for each of us: “garbage man,” “thief,” housepainter,” and so on. Thanks, teacher, for reminding us where our future lies. If the teacher sends one of us to the principal, our punishment is suspension without a chance to defend ourselves. The principal advises us to leave school and work as a blacksmith, electrician, or garbage collector (for boys), and as seamstress, or hairdresser, or domestic servant (for girls).

Our parents don’t know anything about how we are educated or what happens in school. Even if they knew, their hands are tied since they can’t send us to posh school. Anyway, they don’t have the time to care about our schooling. So they always side with the teachers, who live in the camp, have fifty students per class, and have to work mornings and afternoons. As for us we are ”apes,” and “devils,” and ”unbearable.”  But is it really our fault?
Sometimes I wonder,  why do the Lebanese even bother to prevent us from practicing certain professions like medicine, engineering, and law in addition to 73 other occupations? After all Jericho school can only produce garbagemen, housepainters, and blacksmiths. Those are the professions that Lebanon allows us to practice. Does anyone seriously think that we’ll be able to pursue higher education if we stay in Jericho?
We believe that every kid likes to learn, but sometimes the method of teaching is what drives kids to drop out of school and start working. That’s what happens to most kids in the camp. Is it because we are Palestinian kids living in camps that we are deprived of our right to learn and our right to a bright future.