Pope Francis: Palestinian Ex Refugee Winner of $1M Global Teacher Award

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves to the crowd while arriving to celebrate Mass in San Cristobal de las Casas, February 15, 2016. |

Pope Francis announced this week that a Palestinian teacher has been named the recipient of the $1 million Global Teacher Award.

The pontiff made the announcement via video on Sunday, saying Hanan al-Hroub, a school teacher in the city of al-Bireh, located on the West Bank, would be receiving the prize for her dedication to teaching refugee children.

Al-Hroub grew up in a refugee camp herself, and has expressed her commitment to providing children with similar upbringings the chance to learn in a non-violent environment.

Pope Francis said in a statement that he "would like to congratulate the teacher Hanan al-Hroub for winning this prestigious prize due to the importance she gives to the role of play in a child's education."

 "A child has the right to play," the pope continued, adding "part of education is to teach children how to play, because you learn how to be social though games, and you learn the joy of life."

Francis said during his speech that people like al-Hroub encourage growth for younger generations.

"A population that is not well educated because of wars, or by other reasons that exist in order not to get any education, is a population that decays," the pope said. "That is why I would like to highlight the noble profession of a teacher."

Al-Hroub told the Associated Press that she is still amazed she won the award.

"I feel amazing and I still can't believe that the Pope said my name," al-Hroub said. "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."

Al-Hroub added that she is planning to use her $1 million reward money to start a scholarship fund for refugee children.

In her acceptance speech, the teacher reiterated her goal to teach refugee children the importance of non-violence. She often employs play scenarios with her children to encourage them to find peaceful solutions to conflict.

"I am proud to be a Palestinian female teacher standing on this stage," al-Hroub told the audience at the awards' ceremony in Dubai on Sunday. "We can teach children to be effective and inventive through various contexts which include entertainment, drawing and movement."

"We need to help children with questioning, dialogue, thinking and feeling to help them express themselves," al-Hroub added after accepting her prize.

According to the AFP, the awards' ceremony including video broadcast messages from Prince William, Vice President Joe Biden, and Microsoft's Bill Gates, among others.

This marks the second Global Teacher Prize to be awarded by the Varkey Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving education for children around the world.

Sunny Varkey, the philanthropist behind the organization, said in a statement that he hopes al-Hroub's dedication "will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over Palestine and throughout the world every day."

Varkey added to BBC that the purpose of the awards' ceremony was to shine a light on the importance of teachers.

"My hope is that children from around the world will watch Sunday's ceremony and think about what their own teachers do for them," Varkey said.

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