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Inside Palestine’s First Green School

Published 10/26/2016 by Global Communities

Inside Palestine’s First Green School

This article originally appeared on Al-Monitor

Written by Ahmad Melhem

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority issued a national plan for sustainable consumption and production on Oct. 5. One of its main recommendations is to focus on green buildings to save energy and reuse grey water. The head of the authority, Adala Atira, told Al-Monitor, “The cabinet, in agreement with the Ministry of Education, issued a decision to encourage schools to use solar energy to generate power to light their premises. The decision is being implemented in several schools to reduce gas emissions and curb pollution.”
Civil and state institutions in Palestine are increasingly using eco-friendly services like solar power and are working to promote this culture among the next generation. The Palestinian cabinet decided during its meeting on Aug. 25, 2015, that the Ministry of Education and the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority would coordinate to study the possibility of supplying all schools in Palestine with alternative power sources. On Aug. 28, the solar cell project was launched to light all the schools in the town of Jinsafut in the northern West Bank, producing 28 kilowatt-hours. The project was funded by the United Nations Development Programme.

On Aug. 11, the first green school in Palestine, the Aqqaba School for Girls, was inaugurated in the town of Aqqaba in the northern West Bank in compliance with the Palestinian Green Buildings Guidelines. The guidelines determine the standards and the technical criteria required for constructing and evaluating sustainable buildings. They include reducing the amount of water used in construction, the amount of energy used to power the buildings and the material consumed during construction. The guidelines also encourage recycling, limit the environmental effects on the surroundings and contribute to highly efficient buildings that are safe, sustainable and affordable.
The school was built with $1.3 million in funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Ministry of Local Governance. The Global Communities Association, an international organization that encourages sustainable change in Palestine, helped implement the project.

The students were impressed with their new school. Hadeel Izz al-Din Abu Ara, an 11th grader, said she was proud to be a student at the first green school in Palestine. She told Al-Monitor, “The Global Communities Association has organized workshops for students to introduce them to green buildings. This made us more aware of the importance of the environment. The school’s systems, labs and facilities also encourage students to study and promote excellence.”

Abu Ara added that the green school is different from traditional ones, as its laboratories and facilities are advanced and are adjacent to the classrooms. She said green schools foster students’ awareness of environmental issues like sorting litter, saving power and reusing materials, and they are sharing this information with friends and neighbors.
Inas Iyad Abu Ara, also a student in the 11th grade, told Al-Monitor that the school is special for its distinctive facilities. She said it pushes the students forward in their education and has a positive impact on the students individually, driving interest in environmental issues and helping students launch various initiatives.
The green school was established as an all-girls’ secondary school to serve 200 students. It aims to offer an enhanced educational environment for girls and increase their awareness of the benefits of green buildings and eco-friendly practices.

During the school’s opening cermeony, US Deputy Consul General in Jerusalem Dorothy Shea said, “We know that society flourishes when women succeed. By opening this school, we reiterate our commitment to encouraging education for girls.”

The idea for this school stemmed from Aqqaba’s need for another high school for girls to reduce the overcrowding in the town’s only girls’ high school. Aqqaba Mayor Jamal Abu Ara told Al-Monitor that the municipal council submitted a request and architectural designs for a regular school to the Global Communities Association affiliated with the USAID at a cost of $700,000.

Aqqaba municipality contributed to buying the three-dunum (3,000-square-meter) land on which the school was built and preparing the architectural designs, while the USAID funded it through the Global Communities Association. The school was then registered at the Palestine Higher Green Building Council as the first green school in Palestine and second green building of any kind, under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The first such building houses the Abdel Mohsin Qattan Foundation, and its builders hope it will reflect positively on the town and its suburbs by spreading an eco-friendly culture and supporting green buildings in Palestine.

The school has many other special features, such as being built according to international anti-earthquake standards. It is also energy and water efficient, and its 52-centimeter thick walls effectively isolate classes and the school from their external surroundings. The lighting was installed in such a way as to light the school with solar energy throughout the year. Rainwater is also collected for use. The school has three purifying cisterns, and a fourth collects greywater to irrigate playgrounds and gardens after being refined.

Amina Abu Khaizaran, the director of the school, told Al-Monitor how proud she was of the project, saying, “The main objective of the school is to preserve the environment and not pollute it. We want to instill this culture in students through sorting waste into three types — glass, paper and organic waste — and relying on refining water that is used at school to irrigate the gardens and produce electricity with solar cells.”
The school teaches the same curriculum that is taught elsewhere in Palestine, defined by the Ministry of Education, but its teachers will work environmental topics into the curriculum.

The school includes seven grade levels and three concentrations — literary, scientific and business — in addition to four development centers (a library, an advanced science lab, a computer lab and an arts hall) and four administrative offices as well as a first-aid room.

Abu Ara said, “Following the inauguration of the school, we developed a vision to make our town eco-friendly. For that reason, a committee was formed of the local community to implement some eco-friendly concepts like encouraging inhabitants to use solar energy as a source of power, promoting reforestation campaigns and beautifying the town and reusing materials and water. But this requires years of work.”
Palestinians’ awareness of the increasing pollution risks as well as Israel’s control of their power and water supplies has pushed them to promote green buildings and eco-friendly practices and using them to meet their needs.