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Volume 9, No. 3WINTER 2006

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem:
Children of the Holy Land
Receive Improved Schools

The Orthodox Secondary School in the village of Taybeh is one of nine private West Bank schools that will receive new USAID funding through IOCC’s infrastructure repair project. Enlarged classrooms, upgraded libraries, and other improvements are being planned for Orthodox and Latin Patriarchate schools in Beit Jala, Jerusalem, Beit Sahour and Ramallah. Photo: A. Morcos/IOCC

Jerusalem (IOCC) — IOCC’s plan to renovate and upgrade nine private schools in the West Bank was recently approved for funding by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This initiative follows the redirection of aid for IOCC’s prior rehabilitation of public schools after elections brought new leadership to the Palestinian Authority. It is the first time that U.S. government funding will go towards faith-based schools in the Holy Land. Nora Kort, IOCC’s Head of Office in Jerusalem, talks about how this new program will bring hope and opportunity to all children in the embattled West Bank.

N&N: What is the situation in the West Bank today?

KORT: I would say that the situation is extremely dire, particularly for tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority employees because their salaries have been frozen since March 2006. It is also a very difficult time for farmers because Israel’s Defense Wall makes it very hard for them to reach their lands. Right now is olive picking season in the Holy Land and farmers cannot always reach their farms. Olives are the backbone of the Palestinian economy and we are afraid that an entire harvest will be wasted.

N&N: What is the scope of the new IOCC school renovation program in the West Bank?

KORT: IOCC Jerusalem has chosen nine private schools that are run by the Orthodox and Latin Patriarchates in Jerusalem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Ramallah. We plan to enlarge classrooms and playgrounds, provide better equipment, and improve libraries and health and sanitation facilities. The whole purpose is to create a better and safer environment for children to learn.

N&N: Are private schools in the West Bank in better shape than public schools?

KORT: Like public schools, private schools are also affected by the economic situation, though they receive some support from churches and missions organizations. We’re talking about sewage backing up, ceilings falling in, and doors that are not holding up against the wind. Even if the education is good, children should not have to learn in an environment that is rundown. Each school has a different need, but they all need more equipment, larger classrooms and playgrounds, and more hygienic toilet facilities.

N&N: We understand that children who had attended public schools in the West Bank are now trying to attend these private schools.

KORT: Public schools are closed in the West Bank because the Palestinian Authority cannot pay the teachers’ salaries and the teachers are on strike. Many Muslim parents go to these private Christian schools asking them to accept their children. They are accepted, but the schools do not have enough classroom space. This new program will upgrade classroom size. St. George’s Orthodox School in Ramallah will be able to accept another 100 children because of the upgrade.
N&N: What were your criteria in picking the schools that will be assisted?
KORT: We chose those in desperate need for immediate support and that have been waiting quite some time for donors. Also, we looked for schools in communities that were willing to help with labor. Finally, we chose those who don’t charge tuition to low-income families and who don’t discriminate or separate poor children from wealthier children.

N&N: Why is education an important component to humanitarian work in the Holy Land?

KORT: Education is a priority in order to overcome poverty and to have a better economy. It also strengthens civil society. I think that education is the way forward in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

N&N: How will this program create economic opportunity in the West Bank?

KORT: The upgrading of these schools will also provide construction work to many unemployed laborers — a total of 7,550 work days for over 750 laborers. We chose those families who have been out of work for at least 6 months. Each family can have a maximum of 10 days of work for a breadwinner and then the workers are switched out so that another family can have a breadwinner work.

N&N: What is your overall vision for the schools and the way that they will impact their communities?

KORT: I think about how these schools will be able to offer more access to all children. One of the schools that we are going to help in Beit Jala has a really wonderful principal who accepts all children. I think that out of 50 children, only 15 are able to pay a nominal fee. Sometimes the parents take the children out of the schools themselves if they can’t pay. So this principal actually goes knocking on doors asking them to bring their children back. When I think of IOCC's impact, I think of that principal knocking on doors.

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