IOCC Launches West Bank Job Creation, Education Project

Palestinian students gather for recess at a school playground in Deir Balout in the West Bank. Safe places to play and learn are scarce in the smaller, rural villages of the West Bank, where International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is beginning a $3 million project to renovate and build classrooms, bathrooms, libraries, playgrounds and other youth facilities. Photo courtesy of Chris Maddaloni

Jerusalem (February 15, 2005) — In some parts of the West Bank, school children meet for class in tents. In other parts, authorities cannot build schools fast enough to keep up with the growing student population.

These needs, along with the continuing problem of unemployment in the West Bank, prompted International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to launch a new project that will expand educational opportunities for thousands of underprivileged Palestinian young people.

The $3 million project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will result in the construction or renovation of school classrooms, bathrooms, libraries, labs, playgrounds and other youth facilities in 24 villages in the Ramallah region.

IOCC was one of six international relief agencies to recently sign an agreement with USAID to promote job creation and education reform in the West Bank. The $13 million agreement, spread among the six agencies, will create employment opportunities through the construction and renovation of classrooms and youth centers in the West Bank and Gaza.

On hand for the February signing ceremony at Jericho’s Intercontinental Hotel was IOCC-Jerusalem Director Nora Kort, who emphasized the importance of creating opportunities for Palestinian girls.

“Many rural areas do not have any schools or enough classrooms, and children are compelled to go to neighboring villages,” Ms. Kort said. “This presents great challenges and obstacles, especially for girls: Tradition does not allow them to travel outside their own villages in search of education.”

The new project will build on IOCC’s work over the past eight years to train women, create jobs, renovate public buildings (including schools) and revitalize agriculture in rural areas of the West Bank. In that time period, IOCC has built partnerships with local leaders and organized the participating villages into “clusters.”

Ms. Kort said IOCC will use the same system with the new initiative. Clusters of 13 villages near the town of Ni’lin and 11 villages near the town of Beit Liqya will be involved, potentially benefiting a population of more than 68,000 residents.

“Children who live in rural areas of the West Bank are suffering from a lack of safe educational and recreational facilities,” said IOCC Director of Operations Samir Ishak. “Their parents suffer from a lack of employment. This project addresses both concerns — the short-term and the long-term.”

IOCC’s partners in the project include USAID, local village councils, and the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

IOCC will employ more than 2,000 people in the constructions trades for the life of the 30-month project. The result will be an improved educational infrastructure network serving more than 26,000 children ages 5-19, Ms. Kort said.

IOCC has been active in the Middle East since 1997, when it began humanitarian programs in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Founded in 1992, IOCC is the official humanitarian agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).