I walked into an oasis of quiet, cleanliness and beauty as the children gathered for Morning Prayer and announcements at the beginning of the school day. The Terra Santa Girls School is on a hill in Bethlehem overlooking the Old City and Manger Square, as well as the newer city complete with all the fast food restaurants.
The high school houses roughly 500 students from grades 6-12. It is one of the top schools in the area with close to 98% of the students graduating and moving on to higher education – if they have the finances.
I was given a tour of the science lab, library, Special Ed classroom, and the very new and modern auditorium where graduation would be taking place. This auditorium was funded by a European charity. The builders took part of the old playground and constructed the atrium for the whole school as well as outside cultural events.
Here the young girls continue to learn Arabic, English and French. They have cooking and sewing classes as well as algebra, history and economics. The mosaics they are creating in art class are works of beauty and will be sold at fairs in the Spring. This artwork, as well as some very fine needlepoint done by the girls brings extra income to the school which allows the less fortunate students to continue attending and enables the purchase of modern technology that enhances their learning. But funds from fine needlepoint can only go so far.
The teachers are dedicated and well educated; some have earned degrees and spent time studying abroad. But they return to Palestine, their home, in order to teach their people – to give them hope!
Nearby and deeper into the Old City is the primary school, filled with another 500 girls, that offers a safe learning environment. These girls range in age from preschool-5th grade. I arrived just before morning break to see the girls’ uniforms hung on the fence as they participated in a PE class. The 3-4 year-old girls were learning English words for different foods, while some of the kindergarten girls were having private lessons with their teachers. Still others were “ironing, cooking, and putting their ‘babies’ to sleep.” And they all wanted to have their pictures taken doing so!
Outside, many girls practiced their English by asking me my name, the things I like and if I knew about their favorite rock group. Some were shy, but most enjoyed having their pictures taken and having a chance to speak English. As a former teacher, I loved just being there with these lively, curious girls.
I couldn’t wait to return and let all of you know about these very special Palestinian Christians children whose parents struggle to send them to the Terra Santa School where they will receive a top level education and learn respect for all the religions in the area. Sr. Fanim, the principal, is very creative at raising funds locally, but sponsors from other countries are very important to make ends meet.
Many of these girls need sponsors so that they can remain in this peaceful oasis and receive an outstanding education. With unemployment in the double digits, it is very difficult for many parents to pay the tuition for good, Catholic schooling, especially if they are struggling to put food on the table.
“Education is the key to Christians remaining in the Holy Land,” stated Pope Benedict XVI. So if you are called to sponsor one of these girls beginning this Fall, contact the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land at (855) 500-3345 (FFHL).