Ma'an News Agency
May 18, 2010 - 12:00am

Three Palestinian teenagers from the UNWRA school in the Askar refugee camp in Nablus were the first Palestinians to win an award on Monday at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose in California.

Aseel Abu Aleil, Noor Alarada and Aseel Alshaar picked up a special award in applied electronics, having competed against 15,000 finalists from around the world, a statement read.

The fourteen year olds scooped the prize for inventing an electronic sensor cane for the visually impaired, which for the first time sends an infrared signal downwards as well as forwards. Praising the originality of the invention, Mark Uslan, a Director at the American Federation of the Blind said "Although various types of ‘laser canes’ have existed since the early 1970s, the girls' design resolves a fundamental flaw in previous models by detecting holes in the ground," the statement read.

“The girls are part of the UNRWA’s school system, which is educating 500,000 children throughout the Middle East. Unfortunately, severe financial constraints threaten the continued provision of quality education to young Palestine refugees like these girls from Nablus”, said UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner General, Margot Ellis.

"These students show the enormous potential of Palestinian girls and boys, which UNRWA’s education programs wants to bring out. I pay tribute to them and their teachers. It makes me wonder what we could achieve if our education system were not in the midst of a cash crisis," Ellis added.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness added, “UNRWA’s science education costs 25 million dollars a year, and with a 90 million dollar deficit across the Agency, our funds will run out in a matter of months. In Gaza, we have had to turn thousands of children away from our schools this year.”

Intel is the biggest employer in Israel after the military.

The Askar refugee camp was established in 1950 on 0.12 square kilometers within the municipal boundaries of Nablus. Refugees in Askar came from 36 villages in the Lydda, Haifa and Jaffa areas. Like other West Bank camps, Askar was established on land UNRWA leased from the government of Jordan, and is currently home to nearly 15,900 registered refugees.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017