Meet Munes Nazzal, the final-year linguistics major with plans to reinvigorate student interaction and cooperative learning at Birzeit University
Have you ever wondered whether blind people dream, recognize colors, or use smartphones and laptops? If so, Munes Nazzal has the answers for you.
Munes, an English linguistics major in his final year at Birzeit University, started his YouTube channel about a year ago to answer questions on how people with visual impairment lead everyday lives. He had always been asked questions on how he leads his daily life and saw an opportunity to educate people and raise awareness in an interactive, fun manner.
Taking the initiative to introduce people to new concepts and ideas, as it turns out, has been a big part of Munes’ journey at Birzeit University.
From Qalqilya, about 80 km northeast of Ramallah, Munes began his journey at Birzeit University in 2017 after graduating high school with an excellent grade-point average — the highest in the entire governorate, in fact. After three and a half years at Birzeit, he will graduate with distinction from the English Language and Literature program with a minor in translation.
But being a high-achiever isn’t all what Munes is known for by English-language students and faculty. From his earliest days at the university, he made every effort to help his peers, both academically and socially.
“I felt very welcome when I first attended Birzeit University,” said Munes. “Everyone was helpful, especially students volunteering with the Committee for Persons with Special Needs, who would tour the campus with us and show us the university’s various buildings and facilities. After a few months, I was familiar enough with the university to start helping others.”
Munes started with the Committee for Persons with Special Needs, assisting students in accessing the university’s online learning management system — Ritaj — and using the learning resources offered by the committee, such as braille embossers and text magnifiers.
Apart from his efforts with the special needs committee, Munes usually tutored his fellow English students in various topics such as semantics, syntax, and, his favorite, phonetics. “Tutoring is helpful for students because they’re more comfortable asking their peers questions than their instructors,” he noted, adding that his close relationship to the tutees allows him to connect the learning material to the everyday lives of the students.
In his phonetics tutoring classes, for instance, Munes uses his knowledge of the different accents in Ramallah and the surrounding villages to pinpoint where students grew up and explain how people in different areas have certain phonetic characteristics that set them apart from their neighboring communities.
At the advice of Dr. Azim Assaf, a professor of linguistics who chairs the Committee for Persons with Special Needs, Munes ran for English club president in his third year at the university and won. Immediately, he set out to expand the tutoring program and recruit more students to help their classmates, offering volunteer hours in exchange for tutoring classes and helping students connect during the COVID-19 lockdown. (Birzeit University requires students to log 120 hours of volunteer work, inside and outside the campus, before graduating.)
“My first and most important advice to the students whom I tutor is to understand that there will be challenges ahead during their academic journeys, but they have the minds and tools to achieve great things, whether at the university or beyond,” said Munes. He noted that for most of his time at Birzeit, he took a one-and-a-half-hour drive every day to and from the university, and some of the books that he needed for coursework were not available in braille.
However, with help from the Committee for Persons with Special Needs and a lot of perseverance, he managed not only to graduate at the top of his class, but also help others excel in their studies and integrate into the university community.
As for whether people with visual impairment dream, Munes says in the video on his channel that people who are born blind can’t dream about shapes, because they have never seen any, but they do dream about sounds and physical sensation, while those who lost their sight later in life dream about the shapes and sights that they’ve seen before. For more interesting perspectives, check out Munes’ channel here (in Arabic).