Abdel-Qader Abu Ajameyah is 81-years-old, a Palestinian retiree with fourteen children and thirty-six grandchildren. At an age when most men begin to rest on their laurels, he is hard at work—at a school desk.
For five hours a day, Abu Ajameyah works towards earning his high school diploma, wearing a suit and tie to his studies every day.
In 1948, he was a student in a village near Ramla, which was at that time in Palestine. When the Arab-Israeli war broke out with the creation of Israel in that year, his family fled to become refugees in the West Bank, and Abu Ajameyah soon went to work to help his family. For the next fifty years, he sold food and made a good life for his kin.
Today, with grandchildren reaching adulthood and great-grandchildren on the way, he says his goal is to be “on par” with those descendants.
“I want to set an example to generations—never stop learning,” says Abu Ajameyah.
A room has been set aside for him in a local schoolhouse, and an aid helps him by taking dictation, since a recent stroke has made writing difficult for the octogenarian. He took Israel’s national test for the first time last year, but failed to pass. He’s determined this year. There’s a family party on the line. The next exam will be in July.
He has hearty family support. His sons and wife are all working to make sure he can devote himself to his studies.
“We all encourage him and we are all very proud of him,” said Zakaria, one of Abu Ajameyah’s sons.
Abu Ajameyah also has community support—it’s a matter of pride. The illiteracy rate among Palestinian adults is less than 4%, one of the lowest rates in any Arab nation. Stats for Palestinians living in Israeli territory are less clear-cut.