Gaza's children affirmed their place at the forefront of creativity and innovation last week, as a 14-year-old girl from Jabalia refugee camp, northern Gaza, took first place in an international math competition featuring the best young brains from all around the world.
In recent years in Gaza, creativity and achievement has grown and flourished against extraordinary odds; a blockade and the rubble of many conflicts, the last of which was eight-day war on Gaza in November 2012.
14-year-old Palestine refugee Areej El Madhoun, a student at UNRWA's school in Jabalia camp received the first prize in this year's Intelligent Mental-Arithmetic Competition, held in Malaysia every two years.
The Intelligent Mental-Arithmetic program, which targets children between the ages of 4 and 12, works on developing the mental capacity and performance of children by adopting a technique called the "Both-Hand Abacus Mental-Arithmetic" teaching method. Using the fingers of the left and right hands to compute simultaneously, the program works to create stimulation in both the left and right sides of the brain. This enables children to solve various mathematical questions with speed, accuracy and skill, in addition to improving their thinking abilities.
Ninth-grader Areej outmatched 2,500 other participants from ten countries by solving 182 complicated mathematical questions within an eight-minute period.
Areej sees her success as the greatest gift she can offer to the children of Gaza after the recent eight-day war, which saw houses and infrastructure destroyed, and incidences of psychological trauma rise.
"Winning the first prize is a victory for Palestine. I was very proud to carry my country's flag", said a delighted Areej.
"When I was announced as the winner, I felt overwhelmed and cried so hard".
The recent memory of war made her victory particularly poignant, Areej added
"I went through some difficult times before the competition. The most recent conflict in Gaza had just ended two weeks before the competition began."
In the end, the fear and anxiety brought on by the conflict did not subdue her overwhelming joy at winning first prize, she said.
In addition to Areej, four other young Palestinians received advanced places in the international competition; proving once again that the talent of Palestinian youth is remarkable, when given the opportunity to be.