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A life-changing invention from the West Bank – Who’s life does it really change?

September 2, 2011

Writer – Meera Vijayann

It was the title of the Youtube video that caught my eye recently – A life-changing invention from the West Bank. Of course, I was almost immediately ashamed when I learnt it didn’t have anything to do with guns. Three young Palestinian school girls from the Askar refugee camp recently devised an advanced walking cane called ‘Stick-tech’ to help the blind. The cane, it is said, beeps when it passes over holes or objects, helping a person identify obstacles beforehand. The invention won them tickets to an international science fair in California, and needless to say, the girls were duly thrilled. But after surfing through a couple of media stories that covered this, I realized that there was hardly anything that talked about the situation itself.

Everyone knows about the devastating economic conditions that people in UNRWA dependent refugee camps. The Askar Camp, where the girls are based, isn’t any different. Thousands live here in terrible living conditions. For over 13,000 people, there are three schools, operating often on a shift basis to accommodate students. There is only one food distribution centre. In February, the UNRWA and the Islamic Relief Fund opened a new school for boys, hoping to make education more accessible to children.

So how does life change for these girls? Somehow, no media report seemed to ask this question – Do they get to go to college once they graduate? Does this achievement paint a new destiny? Perhaps the reason why no-one seems to be talking about it is that no one really wants to know the answers. Life’s hardships, they all say, make you value your successes more. But how long-lived or short-lived is this success? The true depth of their success is definitely more than just discovering something that would help another. Their story is one of hope, courage and persistence. Someone once said, to be a ‘refugee’ means that you have no home, no matter where in the world you are’. And the UNRWA has a clause that states in its document that the only way a person can be removed from the status of a refugee is by death‘. So what exactly does that mean for these talented young girls? Does this success mean anything at all?

Perhaps, the media should devote more time to raking out ‘what’s worth knowing about’ in conflict regions and telling us the true story.

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