A Palestinian teacher who grew up in a refugee camp was awarded a $1 million global teacher prize in recognition of her dedication to helping children who had been exposed to violence.
Hanan Al Hroub accepted the Global Teacher Prize at a ceremony in Dubai on March 13. Pope Francis announced the winner to the crowd through a video conference, saying that teachers are “the builders of peace and unity.”
“I am proud to be a Palestinian female teacher standing on this stage,” she said while accepting the award, according to the BBC.
Hroub grew up witnessing acts of violence in the Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem and later became a teacher after her children became traumatized from being shot at while traveling home from school.
By encouraging play and rewarding positive behaviors, Hroub has facilitated a decline in violent behavior among her students.
“I tell all the teachers, whether they are Palestinian or around the world: ‘Our job is humane, its goals are noble. We must teach our children that our only weapon is knowledge and education,’” Hroub said in an interview with CNN after receiving the award.
In his speech, the Pope praised Hroub’s methods in teaching children to avoid violence, according to BuzzFeed. “A child has the right to play,” he said. “Part of the education is to teach children how to play, because you learn how to be social through the games and you learn the joy of life.”
The Global Teacher Prize is granted annually to teachers that have made outstanding contributions to the profession. The award was created by the Varkley Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to “improve the standards of education for underprivileged children throughout the world.”
A panel of educators, entrepreneurs, public officials, scientists and others are responsible for choosing the winner.
Many celebrities, including actors Salma Hayek and Matthew McConaughey, as well as many politicians including Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the ceremony where Hroub received her award.
“I support the Global Teacher Prize. Those that teach — devoting their talents and time to nurturing the talents of others — deserve to be respected and celebrated,” Kevin Spacey said in a statement on the Global Teacher Prize website.
Violence claims the lives of nearly 1.4 million people across the globe each year, according to the World Health Organization. Formal education can help prevent violence by giving children the opportunity to develop crucial social skills, problem-solving strategies, critical-thinking and communication skills.
“Based on this truth, the role of education starts, the teacher’s responsibility starts also as an educator, an artist, creating an environment and a context that frees children from violence, frees their imagination and embodies it in forms of dialogue, love and beauty,” Hroub said.
– Lauren Lewis