By Susan, Bethlehem Team
There was a wonderful atmosphere of content happy children when recently I visited SIRA [Swedish International Relief Association] School for children with learning difficulties.
This school first opened in 1968 as a home for ‘epileptic children’. Now with local clinics and modern medication the need for that kind of care has moved from the school into the community.
70 children assessed with learning difficulties now attend the school. Apart from 3 admin staff [volunteers from Sweden] all 10 teachers and other staff are locals, mostly graduates of Bethlehem University. There are 10 students in each class with an emphasis on strengthening the child’s self-confidence and developing reading and writing skills.
It was good to hear that some students return to their local school and the remainder on leaving school are found work or occupation training. eg a trade apprenticeship. There is follow up on ALL students. The school principal told me ” Our student don’t become unemployed.”
Following the Swedish educational practice, creative activities like art, cooking, music and woodwork are an important part of the school day.
Sport and fun exercise are also important and I was included in mid-morning play time where the kids played on playground equipment, shot hoops , played with soccer balls, chased each other around and climbed the Olive trees. The local school grounds here are usually small walled areas of concrete with no play equipment. At Sira school there was grass, soil and soft surfaces along with the basketball court.
Parents are, I quote ‘educated in what it means to have learning difficulties in order to create an understanding for their own child’s challenges’. Also parents are regularly included in school activities. I was excitedly told about a Dad who learnt to make pizza at school and now enjoys making it for the family. Arab men don’t usually cook at home.
The principal of the school has an interesting story. While still a teenager she married and had children. Then when her children went to Kindergarten she became inspired to train as a pre school teacher, later going to university. Then on to postgrad studies overseas. She is a bright, breezy and enthusiastic person. Someone who inspires and encourages others.
Another story of vision and hard work:
Recently some of my friends following a centuries-old walking track, walking the seven kilometers from Jerusalem Zoo to the village of Battir near Bethlehem.
This village is beautiful and fighting for survival and working to maintain its ancient heritage and environment. Last year the village won the UNESCO prize for ‘Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscape’. Members of Battir Eco Landscape Museum are working towards gaining World Heritage status for the area.
In the village I met Hassan who spent 6 yrs in Egypt studying Engineering before returning to Battir. Since then he has continued to study agriculture, ecology and subjects related to his passion for restoring and recording the heritage [ buildings,terraces, farming practices an Olive press] in the area. Hassan and his team from the Eco Museum are working hard for their community.
The Ottomans built a train line from Jerusalem to Jaffa over 100 yrs ago with a station at Battir. This train is now an Israeli [and tourist] only train. Palestinians are not permitted on the train. The railway station has been destroyed by Israeli military. Where once it was used regularly to take produce for sale in Jerusalem and beyond now produce can only be sold locally.