Nearly all the tables at the canteen are full and you can feel the contagious cheerfulness of the children in the air, mixed with the delicious smell of rice and vegetables, the meal of the day. “The menu changes everyday. For example, yesterday we ate pasta —says Basel, a boy that is attending the 7th grade— and the dessert is over there. Eating together is real fun!”.
This is the most recent initiative promoted as part of the project Bethlehem and the children in the Holy Land (“At Christmas with the children of Bethlehem”), whose objective is to support the personal development and education of Palestinian children between the ages of 3 and 17. For the children who come from the poorest families, the school offers the opportunity of spending more time at school instead of in the streets, taking profit of the canteen service as well as extra-curricular activities.
“After lunch we have a 30-minute break and then, at 3pm, we go back to class to take part in the after-school activities”, Mohammed explains. In fact, after lunch, the children go to the school playground: most of them play football, while a few little groups talk by the courtyard stairs. After scoring a great goal, George tells us what the afternoon activities consist of: “The teachers help us to do our homework and study for the tests that we’ll have on the following day; we work on every subject: English, Arabic, Italian, Maths”… (He is very good in English!).
Despite the fact that most students come from a context of extreme poverty and social disadvantage, the atmosphere at school is relaxed, the children are eager to learn and some of them have clear ideas about their future: “I want to travel and visit many countries, but after that I want to return to Bethlehem: the most beautiful country!”, says Ilyas, who is attending the 10th grade.
If these children have better future prospects it is thanks to the support of the Franciscan friars and the teaching staff who everyday choose to believe in them, helping them to develop their greatest potential.