Palestinian Teacher Who Grew Up In A Refugee Camp Has Won A Million Dollar Global Teacher Prize


If we haven’t made it clear before, we love teachers here are GTHQ! We believe they are often the heroes for many communities around the world and deserve all the recognition when they tirelessly work to ensure children have a future based on possibilities, not limitations.

Whether it is a teacher who has educated thousands of refugee girls, or a group of fathers who volunteer their time to read to kids in a low-income neighborhood, the very act of investing in the next generation of leaders, writers, entrepreneurs, business owners and more is one of the admirable jobs in the world.

Not every teacher or student has access to great resources or even the type of safety and support we experience in the West. But those who press on regardless of the opposition exemplify what Malala Yousafzai has said in her mission to promote girls’ education “one teacher, one pen, one book can change the world.”

That is exactly what Hanan Al Hroub, a teacher from Palestine is doing. Hanan grew up in a refugee camp near Bethlehem and now as an adult she spends her days teaching refugee children in the West Bank city of al-Bireh. Mark on the world grew a little bigger recently when she was awarded the second annual Global Teacher Prize in a ceremony held in Dubai.

The prize was created by the Varkey Foundation, the charitable arm of the GEMS international education firm. It was designed to raise the status of the teaching profession.


She was chosen for her method of teaching kids using play in order to resolve violence and tension, and received $1million in prize money.

“I am proud to be a Palestinian female teacher standing on this stage,” she said after accepting her award. Hanan beat out 8000 other applicants for this prestigious title. The 10 finalists all flown to Dubai for the ceremony came from Kenya, the UK, India, Finland, Australia, Japan, Pakistan and the United States.

Fun fact: one of the nominees was Aqeela Asifi, the woman we mentioned earlier who has educated many girls in Pakistan, after fleeing her home country Afghanistan many years ago. She grew up as a refugee herself and is now teaching refugee girls in a school she built herself.

Hanan told the Associated Press she is going to use the prize money to create scholarships for students in order to encourage them to study and even choose a teaching career like her.

The ceremony contained video messages from Stephen Hawking, Prince William, and Pope Francis who all shared their own thoughts on what these teachers are doing for children in the world.


Prince Williams said teachers “influence, inspire and shape a young person’s life for the better.”

Pope Francis, teachers are “the builders of peace and unity”.

Hanan was pretty stoked to hear some of the world’s most recognizable people speak directly to her.

“I feel amazing and I still can’t believe that the Pope said my name. For an Arab, Palestinian teacher to talk to the world today and to reach the highest peak in teaching could be an example for teachers around the world,” she said.

The Washington Post reports that Hanan’s strong anti-violence message is timely and important, as the past five months have seen increased killings between Palestinian and Israeli citizens. It is a deep-rooted tension that has been heightened with more social media awareness between the two regions.

Nevertheless, this monumental achievement for a woman of humble beginnings is evidence of the good that can come from a bleak situation. Education can be the antidote to violence, and Hanan is raising a generation of children to believe and live this out.


“The Palestinian teacher can talk to the world now. Hand in hand we can affect change and provide a safe education to provide peace,” she said.

On the Global Teacher Prize website, a profile about Hanan explains that she decided to become a school teacher after her children witnessed a shooting on their way home from school and were left traumatized. After learning that her children needed special care and attention in school after seeing something so shocking, it made her realize she could help others who have been through the same situation.

She teaches in a region where this is unfortunately far too common – children witnessing violence and in some cases becoming part of it. Hanan has a slogan she uses: “no to violence” and has even developed her own specialized teaching style which she explained in a book called ‘We Play and Learn’. Her expertise has led her to be called upon to speak at seminars, conferences and teacher training workshops because wherever her method is being taught, there is a decrease in violent behavior.

Hanan is nothing short of heroic in our eyes, as are the many teachers around the world who are having an impact on a child’s life. You can find out more about her story and why she does what she does in the Varkey Foundation video below:


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