The pope announced this woman as 'World's Best Teacher.'

Her 'No to Violence' program is making an incredible difference in Palestine.

It sucks when kids don't get to be kids.

There's probably a more eloquent way to say that, but it's hard to be articulate when you're talking about kids growing up in war zones. The first 10 years of life should be about getting to know the world through play and learning and fun. Being a kid should revolve around making friends, playing in dirt, and being carefree.

But lots of kids are deprived those opportunities, and it can be detrimental. Studies have shown that exposure to violence can affect children's health, cognitive development, and sense of morality.


However, good teachers can make a huge difference for struggling kids.

There are incredible teachers making big differences all over the world, but this month, the Varkey Foundation honored one woman in particular: an incredible Palestinian teacher named Hanan Al Hroub.

Hanan at the Varkey Foundation awards ceremony. Photo via the Varkey Foundation, used with permission.

Hanan won the 2016 Global Teacher Prize, an award that recognizes one outstanding teacher each year. This award is a huge deal: Pope Francis himself made the announcement about her win, specifically thanking her for "the importance she gave to the role of play in a child's education."

After accepting the award, Hanan told the audience, "We need to help children with questioning, dialogue, thinking, and feeling to help them express themselves. We as teachers can build the values and morals of young minds to ensure a fair world, a more beautiful world, and a more free world."

In Palestine, where Hanan teaches, violence is an everyday occurrence.

Hanan witnessed violence firsthand as a child in a Palestinian refugee camp, and it forced her to grow up very quickly. Years later, her own children had to confront bloodshed too, when they were walking with Hanan's husband and someone started shooting at them. Their father was injured in the attack.

"It transformed my children's behaviors, personalities, and academics," Hanan said.

All her life, she had seen children's lives derailed by conflict and destruction. So she decided to get a degree in elementary education and use education as a tool to address — and even prevent — violence.

In her classroom, Hanan focuses on what happens when students are exposed to violence.

Often, she says, their behavior reflects their trauma. They can become hyperactive and defiant, which in turn overwhelms and frustrates their teachers.

"I have had a number of special needs children in my class since I have been a teacher, and I am still shocked to see how poorly prepared we are to tackle their needs. They are isolated in public schools," Hanan told Upworthy.

Her experience as both a teacher and a mother of children exposed to violence prompted her to create her a teaching model that put peace and compassion at the forefront, which is how she ended up in front of the pope this year.

Hanan's classrooms are shaped by a simple and profound motto: "No to Violence."

Hanan uses stories, games, and activities as conduits for complex conversations on ethical behavior and morality.

One of the first things Hanan's students learn is her mantra: No to violence. GIF from Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize/YouTube.

The core of her strategy is individualized care, encouraging healthy relationships, and respect. "I gave students personalized time, and I catered lessons to each student’s needs, treating them in a way they were not used to being treated. I also have open discussions with all my students once a month about their attitude towards each other," Hanan said over email.

"Mrs. Hanan speaks to the students' souls. Mrs. Hanan works on these children's morals," Haneyek Nazzal, one of Hanan's supervisors, said.

No to Violence encourages students to be good citizens who engage positively with the world around them.

Hanan's students help their neighbors with their olive harvests, raise flags with the Palestinian president, plant olive trees on Arbor Day, write and act in plays about World Health Day and World Environment Day, and even make visits to their village council so they can better understand how government decisions are made. This involvement in the community helps Hanan break the chains of violence — not just for the children in her classroom, but also for their families.

Hanan has also started training other teachers in her school to use No to Violence, and she wrote a book, "We Play and Learn," on her approach to learning. The best part: It works. The schools where Hanan has implemented the No to Violence program have seen a reduction in violent behavior.

I'll let Hanan explain the impact that a good teacher can have:

"Every day, our role in life as teachers gets more and more important," she says. "If the world asks what the future of our children will look like, we should ask ourselves what type of educated children we will be raising."

Kids cheering for Hanan while the ceremony was broadcasted. Photo via the Varkey Foundation, used with permission.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

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Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

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Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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