In My Mother's Footsteps:
A Palestinian Refugee Returns Home
Mona Hajjar Halaby brings a remarkable breadth of experience in progressive education to her writings. As a highly respected educator, spanning three decades teaching primary and middle school pupils, her knowledge of these important formative years has helped many young minds to find their way in the world. This outlook on life also brings to bear her personal experience as a child of refugee parents, and as an exile herself growing up outside of her country of origin.
In My Mother's Footsteps: A Palestinian Refugee Returns Home is a poignant story that blends historical events with present day realities. It portrays the early life of Mona's mother Zakia Jabre, through Zakia's own words and through the places that she once knew as home in Jerusalem. After having to flee her home in 1948, Zakia found refuge in Alexandria, Egypt before events propelled her, and her young family, to become uprooted once again a decade later, this time to Geneva, Switzerland.
Mona was born in Alexandria and had grown up learning about her family's origins in a homeland that she had yet to see. More than half a century after her mother escaped the Nakba, Mona Hajjar Halaby spent a year in Palestine on a sabbatical to work at the Ramallah Friends School teaching non-violent communication skills. There she came to know children who were growing up in a highly stressful environment, which, she discovered, was having a serious impact on their abilities to develop both socially and academically.
While living in Ramallah, Mona received many letters from her mother recollecting people and places from her youth. Halaby collected these letters in a journal, interspersed with notes about her own recent experiences living and working among her fellow Palestinians, notes which became the source of this biographical memoir. Her mother Zakia was able to join Mona during this time. Together they were to journey back through those memories of her mother's youth, and to experience those memories within the realities of the present day.
Upon returning to her adopted home in California, Mona set about to share her experiences of daily life in her Palestinian homeland, and to help bridge the distance between those who experience this daily reality first hand, and how their daily reality is perceived by the outside world.
Belonging: Creating Community in the Classroom is about helping children to develop empathy for others, by creating a community within the classroom where everyone is a valued member.
Halaby addresses a deeply human problem with a viable approach that focuses on marginalized students who, by the time they reach secondary school, might easily become angry and bitter. The crisis faced by these socially disenfranchised students is addressed with solutions that extend beyond an overreliance on standardized tests.
Belonging: Creating Community in the Classroom presents a collection of first-hand stories, experienced in an Oakland, California classroom. Each chapter is written as fiction so that the stories can be used directly by teachers who are interested in sharing these experiences within their own classrooms.
This pragmatic and scholarly approach is aimed towards ensuring that all students in elementary school find a place within their classroom communities. While written primarily for educators and parents, it is also a book about effective communication and the power of belonging that can be applied in many situations beyond.