A Race to the Future
Woroud Sawalha at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
Ruth Marjalizo: Hello everybody from Nablus, West Bank. Today, I am going to interview Woroud Sawalha. As you might know, she was the first female representing Palestine in the London Olympic Games 2012. Assalamu ‘alaikum Woroud, thank you so much for being with us while you are busy with your exams. How are they going on? We hope you are doing well.
Woroud Sawalha: I have done my exams well, thank God.
RM: You were not the first Arabic woman participant in Olympic Games, but you were the first woman who represented Palestine in Olympic Games. Do you want to share your experience with us?
WS: Palestinians were so proud of me to represent my nation and Islam in such a good way.
RM: How do you think that it was the impact into the people when they saw you running in hijab?
WS: Nevertheless, it was something new for the world when they saw a woman running and playing wearing hijab, because the participation of a woman wearing hijab was rare in international sports games.
RM: How they behaved you for putting on hijab?
WS: Even though I knew that wearing a hijab might have had a negative effect on my performance, wearing it stemmed from an internal desire and did not discourage me of wearing it and participate freely in front of the world.
RM: What value or what does sport mean to you as a woman?
WS: Sports for me is my world that I use to make my dreams come true; those dreams that one day would possibly become real despite the harshcircumstances that we Palestinians live through.
RM: What did you want to transmit? Did you want to send a message to the people around the world or to the Palestinian girls?
WS: My participation wasn’t personal but it was a wish that came true to send a message to all girls who love sports; and especially the ones who wear hijab that you could make the impossible if you break your own limits. I hope to be an example to follow for many Palestinian girls.
RM: I think the education is a mainstay of society. According to Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there were 116,703 illiterate individuals aged (15 + years) in 2011. The illiteracy rate varies considerably between the sexes: 2.1% for males compared to 7.4% for females. The percentage of students in West Bank is high, 85.5%, but only 12.8% go to the University. What do you think about the education in West Bank?How it works here?
WS: Education has a high percentage in West Bank compared with other countries, but the quality of education is still relatively low because higher education and many majors need by the local community aren’t available in Palestine and many of educated people and elites and innovative minds leave to work and study abroad and only a few of them comes back.
However, there is an evolution compared to previous years, there are new innovations on many different levels.
But speaking about sports, it has been deteriorating that there is a huge negligence in many sport games that are important for practicing and should come first when teaching in school and that’s referred for many reasons and it’s not a human resources problem but it’s a financial and administrative problem.
RM: In your country, people have to apply for a loan in order to study at University. Obviously, in a country where the basic wage is so low and studying at the University is so expensive, there are no so many chances. How do you believe that affects the society in a cultural level?
WS: Palestine has many poor families. The minimum wage is low and school and higher education tuition fees are high; which plays a huge role. It has a negative reflection on our education and it affects both society and behavior.
There is a good example that applies to me, except for my academic excellence I would have had a huge set back at the university or not studying at all, but through the academic scholarship I’m in my major now, because my father has my other five sisters to teach and he can´t teach us all.
Most Palestinian families tend to get their daughters married so that the husband would pay his wife’s education expenses; some people just stop their education and start learning how to make handmade crafts; many others just send half of their children to school and the rest stay without education and that’s the reality that Palestinian families live.
RM: I know that you have to pay taxes to West bank and also to Israel. How do you feel the political situation right now?
WS: Regarding the political conditions that Palestinians live I wish that it’ll get better and there will be an independent Palestinian country, hoping it’ll make better and livable economical conditions for people, these things that now are controlled by the occupation which is the reason of all the disasters we live through.
RM: What do you think about the globalization? How does globalization affect Palestine?
WS: There are many negative effects and loss of privacy, though there are many positive aspects especially connecting with the world.
RM: Actually, you are studying in Nablus at An Najah University. Nablus is a conservative city. How much is important the religion for you? What about your city?
WS: Religion is my relation with God and the opinions of others are irrelative and unimportant for me regarding this.
RM: UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is the agency for Palestinian refugees. Did you hear about them? Do you feel that they are helping you?
WS: Yes, I’ve heard about the UNRWA and they provide many help for Palestinian families. Yes, it does provide help and support but these aids are the right of the refugee deprived Palestinian people and you can’t call it aids because it’s their stolen rights.
RM: The majority of Palestinians are living in poverty about 25.8% in 2011. Similarly, about 12.9% of Individuals were living below the deep poverty line in 2011. Sadly, until our global society breaks down and total reformation occurs this will continue to be a world problem. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics holds that 57% of employees in Palestine live below the poverty line. What do you think is the problem in Palestine?
WS: I believe that the main reason of poorness and the high percentage of people living below the poverty line goes back most importantly to state policy, the unfair distribution of estates and the huge differences in the proportion of salaries of the government staff and the priorities go to those in higher positions on the expense of the rest of the nation or most of them.
RM: Recently, you have been in Egypt picking a prize up, could you explain to us why you received it?
WS: I was invited to Egypt in the Arab Youth Forum distinctive which is held every year in one of the Arab countries to encourage Arab youth to excellence, received a certificate from the Forum for Excellence in the field of sports at the level of Palestine for the year 2012.
RM: The 29th of November will be a date nobody will forget. Palestine got recognition as a state in the United Nations. Do you think that is going to help you?
WS: Palestine as an observer state is very important recognition for Palestinians diplomatically. It will be a very important step to gain the independence in the future, which is the goal we seek.
We will have the right to hold the Zionists for their crimes against Palestinians. But the question here is whether countries in the United Nations will be with the oppressed or whether it will remain supportive of the Zionists…
RM: Thank you so much for the interview. We wish you all the best in your career, and we hope West Bank will improve further.
WS: Thanks to my friend Ruth for your huge interest in these matters that needs to go under the world wide spotlights and to be discussed to come out with better results and circumstances.
Ruth Marjalizo interviews Woroud Sawalha in Nablus, West Bank
This article was published on January 30th: School Day of Non-violence and Peace in Global Education Magazine