May 21, 2010
Three girls from the UNRWA school at Askar Camp in Nablus have made history by becoming the first Palestinians to win an award at the world’s premier youth science competition.Aseel Abu Aleil, Aseel Alshaar and Noor Alarada competed with 1500 finalists from around the world, winning a special award in applied electronics at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California. The 14-year-olds scooped the prize for inventing an electronic “sensor cane” for the visually impaired, which for the first time sends an infrared signal downwards as well as forwards. Praising the originality of the invention, Mark Uslan, a Director at the American Federation of the Blind said: “Although various types of ‘laser canes’ have existed since the early 1970’s, the girls’ design resolves a fundamental flaw in previous models by detecting holes in the ground.” The wooden cane uses two infrared ground sensors to detect and identify different surfaces, from steps to holes and even liquid, and sends a different signal, either by sound or vibration, to help the blind navigate the difficult terrain. “We, as women, have brains too. As good as anyone else,” Aseel Abu Leil said. “We have shown what we can do.” The inspiration for the entire project came when Aseel Abu Aleil observed the difficulties that her blind aunt faced, although Aseel very nearly could not attend the event. Intel only provided funding for two contestants to travel, and she lost the initial coin toss. But the extra money was raised by UNRWA staff to send her with her friends. “It is so big. I cannot say,” she said. “To travel, to represent my people. . . . I will remember this the rest of my life.” Their invention was selected from among 52 projects at the Palestine Science and Technology Exhibition to participate in the Intel ISEF. It began as a simple idea, born of necessity, in a region where streets and sidewalks are seldom smoothly paved and obstacles such as holes and debris pose significant challenges for the visually impaired. UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General, Margot Ellis said: “These students show the enormous potential of Palestinian girls and boys. UNRWA in its education programs wants to bring this out.” The UNRWA school system serves more than 500,000 Palestinian children in refugee camps throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It has been the main provider of basic education to Palestinian refugees for sixty years. If you’d like to contribute to UNRWA’s education program, please click here to make a donation to the Adopt a School program. A donation of just $50.00 can provide an UNRWA student with school supplies for one year. Adopt A School UNRWA supporters can help finance a school in Gaza for a set period, from one month to one year. The donations will help children and staff overcome the damage, both physical and mental, caused by years of isolation and deprivation. Any government, institution, non-governmental organization, individual or private sector organization can adopt a school. The costs cover the school’s running costs, including textbooks and computers, teachers’ salaries and heating costs. American Friends of UNRWA has recently partnered with the International Student Relief Association to raise much needed funds to adopt UNRWA schools in Gaza this year. For more information about the Adopt A School program and how you can help UNRWA students succeed, please contact our office at (202) 223-3767. About American Friends of UNRWA American Friends of UNRWA (AFU) is an independent nonprofit organization that provides support for the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) through advocacy, fundraising and education. AFU aims to educate the general American public about the situation of the Palestinian refugees and generate awareness of UNRWA’s education, health and social service programs. Furthermore, AFU engages the private sector in fundraising activities for UNRWA’s human development and humanitarian programs in the Middle East. AFU supports UNRWA’s humanitarian work to protect and assist Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. We strive to meet the needs of the most vulnerable refugees, while building support and awareness in the United States for UNRWA’s life-saving relief programs.