Monday, October 22, 2007

`The Lutheran' looks at what Palestinian children learn

The Lutheran magazine looks at what children are learning in the schools of the Lutheran church in the Holy Land. See the whole article at:

Peace in Palestinian classrooms

In Lutheran schools, students learn respect and love for 'the other'

It should take Amal Abed Rabbo, 16, one hour to reach the Lutheran Dar al-Kalima School in Bethlehem from her Jericho home. With Israeli travel restrictions, it takes three hours each way. Instead, she stays with her uncle’s family in Bethlehem during the week.

But the Roman Catholic 11th-grader doesn’t harbor any hatred. “The situation is not good for us, but I don’t have hatred against Israel,” she said. “I have hope and faith that the situation will one day end and we will have peace.”

Students at the four schools run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land must strive daily to practice Jesus’ edict to “love thy neighbor.” Each day they face political hardships with the Israeli government and within their society. Charlie Haddad, educational director for the schools, sees helping students come to terms with their reality as a main task, in addition to striving for academic excellence.

“If they start hating, it will never end,” he said. “It is the biggest challenge to convince the young people not to feel [hate]. Of course they struggle with it. They see the news, hear their parents and feel the economic hardship. It is very difficult to convince them that it is a government doing that and not to stereotype a whole nation.”

But Haddad doesn’t necessarily want the children to get used to the situation either.

Learning about the other

Before the outbreak of the second intifada (uprising), Haddad encouraged the schools to meet with Israeli counterparts. The meetings fizzled once the violence began. “Both sides are afraid of the other,” he said. “They each know very little about the other.”

School administrators and teachers are hesitant to restart dialogue for fear of being seen as traitors because Christians and their institutions are associated with unpopular Western and American regional policies, Haddad said.

“A lot of fanaticism was created by the intifada,” he said. “Before the intifada there was no Hamas or Islamic jihad. ... Muslims look at us as foreigners now. ... It puts Christians in an awkward situation.”

Yet Haddad would like to see programs developed so Israeli and Palestinian students can communicate freely.

After the intifada, only the Arab Education Institute’s peace education program—aimed at exposing teachers, administrators and students to the religious traditions of the three monotheistic faiths—continued to function, he said. But the joint workshops with Jews, Christians and Muslims are intermittent, partly because of travel restrictions.

Talking openly

It’s vital not to sweep problems under the carpet, Haddad said. Many times the morning devotion at the Dar al-Kalima School is dedicated to discussing current events, allowing students to express their fears and concerns.

“If you ... suppress things, you allow anger to grow,” said Munib Younan, bishop of the Lutheran denomination.

“We need to teach toleration and love, [to] not to succumb to hatred but instead find a solution. Teaching violence is the tool of incompetence.”

Younan sees “toleration” as acceptance of diversity and living together in peace, whereas he said the word “tolerance,” which he dislikes, means something you must accept.

Abed Rabbo said students at her school can discuss problematic issues without letting it affect their relationships with each other. “We don’t take it personally,” she said. “The problems are outside, they are not between us.”

Last year when tempers flared in the Muslim world over Danish cartoons that lampooned the prophet Mohammed, Younan said all teachers at the Lutheran schools were asked to devote classroom time to the topic.

“It is allowed to be angry but as Jesus taught: Be angry but don’t sin,” he said. “You are allowed to be angry when someone is killed. I would be lying to you if I said I did not become angry then anybody—Christian, Jewish or Muslim—is killed. But this anger should not trespass a line and it should not only remain in anger but find ... solutions.”

At the Lutheran schools—as in all Palestinian schools—Christians and Muslims attend separate religion classes.

But in Dar al-Kalima the two classes also meet twice a month to learn about the other religion as well as about Judaism and the Old Testament.

Tony Nassar, Christianity teacher, said the schools can do more to create understanding between Christians and Muslims than with Jews because both are part of Palestinian society.
Nassar teaches the joint lesson with In’am Shaktour, the Islam teacher. “They see Tony and me working together, and they learn from us,” Shaktour said.

Both try to help students differentiate between Judaism as a religion and Israel as a political entity, she added.

Haddad said he’d like to see the school’s program become more structured. He submitted a proposal to the (Lutheran) Church of Norway for funding that would allow more frequent meetings and special trips to holy sites.

As inheritors of Martin Luther’s Reformation, the Palestinian Lutheran schools hope to be part of the reformation of Palestinian society through formal and informal educational programs. It’s something Haddad said he’d like to see.

[Story by Judith Sudilovsky]

And in an earlier issue, The Lutheran focused on the Peace Center for the Blind in Jerusalem:

New lives for the blind

One woman's dream brings hope to many in and around Jerusalem

Lydia Mansour’s hands don’t stop moving as she talks. Blinded at the age of 2 after a bout of measles, Mansour is the director and founder of the Peace Center for the Blind in Jerusalem. As she speaks about the center and its work, she prepares yarn tassels for shawls some of the students have crocheted. With surprising dexterity Mansour—who declined to reveal her age but admits to being 60 plus—quickly winds the burgundy yarn around a small board and then cuts through the accumulated bundle with a scissors.

A graduate and former directorof the Helen Keller School for the blind in Bethlehem, Mansour established the Peace Center in 1983 after the school’s adult rehabilitation facilities were closed. She began with a budget of $200 gleaned from door-to-door donations.

The budget has since grown to $110,000. Mansour said all U.S.-based donations come from Lutheran organizations, including the ELCA and the Lutheran-founded International Partners in Mission, an interfaith nonprofit organization. Other donors include Christoffel Blindenmission from Germany and the English-speaking ministry of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem.

“They have been so good to us,” said Mansour, whose petite frame, small hands and gentle voice belie her strength and determination. “So many friends from the ELCA have kept up with us since the beginning.”

Some 30 young women with varying degrees of blindness come to the center every day for vocational and living-skills training and for academic studies, including Braille in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Without the center most of the women would be left to sit at home alone. Instead the young women are taught—mostly by blind teachers who serve as role models—handicraft skills in hand and machine knitting, sewing and weaving. Their sweaters, scarves, baby blankets, shawls and vests are sold at modest prices at the center and craft bazaars. The small amount of money they raise goes to the center, which provides center graduates with a small salary.

More dreams

For the past 10 years the center’s goal and Mansour’s main preoccupation has been the purchase of permanent space that would allow them to allocate a third of its annual income to operations rather than rent.

But the cost is high, funds are low and purchasing a building is still far from reach, Mansour said. To bring in some extra funds, she started a small beauty salon vocational training center on the grounds for girls from troubled families.

Most students are self-referred or their families come to Mansour asking for help, as did the parents of Mahmoud Hamed, a 14-year-old boy who lost his sight to a degenerative disease and was unable to cope at school. Although the center is for women, Mansour said she made an exception. Hamed is now doing his academic studies at the center and learning how to cope in his daily life.

Segments of Palestinian society still look upon blindness as a stigma. Many poor and uneducated parents view their children who are blind as a burden, keeping them at home and out of sight, sometimes to the point of neglect, Mansour said.

Karima Ahmed Reyan, 30, born with a congenital sight problem like three of her siblings, has been coming to the center since she was 12. At first she was very resentful that her mother was leaving her there, Mansour said.Now as Reyan deftly handles a knitting machine with a grid-board and levers that are complex enough a sighted person would find difficult to use, she smiles shyly, saying she is proud to have a trade where she can earn her own pocket money. “My family is happy I am independent and at least they don’t have to worry about me financially,” she said.

Reyan’s younger sister, Siham, is partially blind and has gone on from the center to study social work at Abu Dis University in East Jerusalem. “The center gave me a lot,” she said.Both women have learned to get around independently—which in this part of the world includes crossing checkpoints and roadblocks to get to the center. Mansour sometimes finds herself traveling to the checkpoint so she can negotiate with Israeli soldiers to let a student cross.

Mansour’s job is 24 hours a day—she often serves as a surrogate-mother and advocate for many of the women whose families don’t know what to do with a blind member. “I make sure they are taken for medical checkups if needed and that they get the proper education so they can become independent and contribute to their community,” she said.

[Story by Judith Sudilovsky]

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