By Mohammed Zaatari
ARAB SALIM, Lebanon: A student listens passionately to her teacher Zeinab Moukalled as she explains the benefits of waste management in Arab Salim.
Moukalled, a strong-willed woman who was educated in Beirut during the 1950s, was the first female teacher in her south Lebanon town. Throughout her life she has been active in the fight for women’s rights, while exceeding in her work as a school teacher.
She completed middle school in 1949, when she was 13. With her mother’s encouragement, she went on to earn a teaching diploma in 1955 and began her career in Moseitbeh’s public school, before she moved to Nabatieh at the behest of her husband, who desperately wanted to return to their village of Arab Salim.
Moving from Beirut did not prevent her from studying Arabic literature at the Beirut Arab University in 1970.
Between 1956 and 1965 she gave birth to six children: Nada, Nasser, Numeir, Ahmad, Ali and Ghassan.
“When I was at the high school official exams I was eight months into my pregnancy with my son Ghassan. I gave birth the following month,” she recalled.
“The secret to success is time management and if we know how to make use of time we can do everything. I was still getting an education, raising my children and doing my duties at home, with was a place full of guests and meetings.”
She credits a three-month-long maternity leave as key: “I used to study while cooking, washing the dishes, before going for my doctor’s appointments during my pregnancies. I also used to teach the kids.”
When she arrived to Arab Salim Public School, it consisted of three classrooms. A fourth was added later. The village is small and was very poor. “I had my first fights with the children and their parents over hygiene issues and I didn’t use violence with the children like other teachers in poor schools. That’s why I was loved by my students and helped them make outstanding achievement in their education, relationships with others and hygiene.”
During the early ’70s, Moukalled established the Working Woman Association, and as the region was targeted continuously by Israeli aggression, she along with several other women established the first dispensary in area.
“We established the dispensary in part of our house and with the help of several organizations we sent two young women to Algeria to specialize in nursing and then to become doctors in the USSR, at that time,” she said.
Later, she formed the Call of Earth Association to help sort solid waste in homes, since waste management was a big issue in the village because of the Israeli occupation and the state’s negligence to intervene, she said.
“We started going door to door to convince families to start sorting waste in their houses and then we established a factory for waste management and sorting,” she said.
Her daughter Nada is now an English literature teacher, and Ali and Numeir are engineers. Ahmad is a dentist, Numeir is also a diplomat in Uruguay, and Ghassan is a doctor in the United States.
“All that I have done is thanks to my mother, who supported my education and that of my six siblings, despite the low income generated by our father,” she said.
“‘Zeinab is special,’ she always said of me. ‘She must go on with her education,’” she added.