RAMALLAH — Mohammed al-Sabakhi, a resident of Nuseirat, is eager to start his new job in Kuwait after passing various assessments and interviews with a Kuwaiti Ministry of Education delegation that visited Gaza Aug. 6-14 on a mission to find teachers to work in Kuwaiti schools. Sabakhi is one of 158 teachers — 102 from Gaza and 56 from the West Bank — who signed contracts with the Kuwaitis.
Sabakhi had applied last year to teach math in Kuwait, but Israeli permit restrictions had prevented the delegation of Kuwaiti teachers and supervisors from entering Gaza. Sabakhi sees his new job as a turning point in his professional and personal life. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for coping with the circumstances in the Gaza Strip,” he told Al-Monitor.
Sabakhi graduated in 2012 from the Islamic University in Gaza with a degree in mathematics and then taught for two years under temporary contracts with the Palestinian Ministry of Education. After four years of unemployment, the opportunity to teach in Kuwait is his chance to escape the 11-year blockade and lack of prospects in Gaza, where he has been responsible for supporting his wife, two sons, his mother and brother.
This is the second consecutive year that Kuwait has recruited Palestinian teachers from Gaza and the West Bank following a 27-year standoff. For almost three decades, Kuwait prevented Palestinians from working there, after the Palestine Liberation Organization sided with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
Sadeq al-Khadour, undersecretary of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, told Al-Monitor that in 2017 the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education had taken the initiative in seeking out Palestinian teachers, and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, namely President Mahmoud Abbas, had instructed the PA's Ministry of Education to do whatever it could to facilitate the process in Gaza and the West Bank.
Khadour said the initiative and response fall within the framework of ministry efforts to promote the experience of Palestinian teachers in the Arab world, providing new opportunities for the teachers on the one hand and on the other assisting the unemployed. Last year, the Kuwaitis signed contracts with 103 teachers, but only from the West Bank.
Mansour al-Dhafiri, head of the Kuwaiti delegation, told Al-Monitor, “We encountered some difficulties in coordinating access to the Gaza Strip this year, but we were keen to get there. We insisted on granting the bulk of the positions to the Gaza Strip to make up for last year, so 102 out of 158 contracts were signed with teachers from Gaza.”
Dhafiri said Kuwait intends to make its teacher recruitment drive among Palestinians an annual program. “We were educated by Palestinian teachers who lived with us in our society and had a great impact on our lives,” he remarked. “Palestinian teachers are highly competent.”
Dhafiri himself was educated by Palestinian teachers in the 1970s. During that period, and until the early 1990s, Palestinians constituted the majority of teachers in Kuwaiti schools due to the large number of Palestinians living in Kuwait. Dhafiri, waxing sentimental, said, “My presence on the land of Palestine is a dream I wish I would never wake from.”
The one-year contracts can be renewed for four years by teachers and others employed by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. They do not forfeit their jobs at the ministry, and once their tenure in Kuwait ends, they can either resume their jobs at the PA ministry or resign to continue working independently in Kuwait. Teachers who are unemployed when they sign with the Kuwaitis can renew their contracts for an unlimited number of years.
“This will be an opportunity to finally return to teaching and broaden my experience,” said Samir Omran, a math teacher from Jericho who had stopped teaching in 2013 to take an administrative position at the Ministry of Education in Ramallah but is returning to the classroom in Kuwait. Omran told Al-Monitor that he is thinking of taking full advantage of the four-year opportunity. He has been encouraged by colleagues who have worked in Kuwait.
Mayssa al-Asbah, one of Omran’s colleagues from Bethlehem, taught in Kuwait during the last school year. Although the job takes her away from her family and her children, she plans to extend her contract for another year and encourages anyone able to take advantage of the opportunity to do so.
Asbah, who has a master's degree in teaching methods from Al-Quds University, told Al-Monitor about the warm welcome she received in Kuwait and the benefits provided by the Kuwaitis to teachers who want to bring their families with them. They are assisted with accommodations and schools for their children, and their spouses are allowed to be employed in Kuwait. Asbah was keen to work in Kuwait because she was born there, but forced to flee during the Iraqi invasion.
Asbah works in a high school in the Hawally district. In her first year teaching in Kuwait, out of the 180 teachers in the school, she was recognized as an initiator and the best teacher in using creative educational methods. “Palestinian teachers and their experience are greatly appreciated,” she said.
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