Journey to the Holy Land – Day 18

November 10, 2010

I left Birzeit at 7:20 this morning by cab for a trip to Ramallah on the first leg of my journey back to Bethlehem.  I chose to sit in the back seat so that I wouldn’t have such a ‘close up and personal’ view of the other vehicles who tried to break the law of Physics and occupy the same space at the same time as my taxi. 

My driver was a very nice man, and capable driver with obvious nerves of steel, who spoke English quite well.  He told me that he had lived in Hungary for 25 years.  I asked him why he came back to Palestine (he was born here), how long ago he returned and the reason for his return.  He related that he has two married daughters who still live in Hungary but that his 12 year old son did not like living in that country.  He said that the schools in Hungary are severely lacking in providing a good education and that there is a very high unemployment rate.  Both of his daughters are currently unemployed and both are college educated.  As a cab driver in Palestine, he at least has a steady job as many Palestinians are unable to buy cars and so depend on public transportation. When so many people, especially the Christians as he is, are emigrating from Palestine, I found it interesting that some of those native to this land are returning even though the land is under occupation.

Last Friday when I was on the tour of the local villages, I met two women who were both teaching at Birzeit University.  One was a native of the State of Washington and a teacher in the Nursing program there.  She came to teach Nursing for one semester at the University.  Another woman is a native Muslim Palestinian who has lived in Arizona for 15 years and is a U.S. citizen.  She teaches biology at the University of Arizona and is doing a one-year teacher exchange program in order to teach here.  It is quite a commitment as she left her husband and three school age sons in the States.  It is heart warming to see that people outside of Palestine are working to help this people—I wish I could say country—get back on their feet.  Developing a sustainable economy is an important key to a peaceful solution in the Middle East.

After a few close calls and some exchange of words between the drivers (I didn’t need to understand Arabic to have a clue about what was being said!) I arrived at the Friends School where I was to meet Sulimah after she dropped off her child there. 

Perhaps now is a good time to provide you with some information about the educational system in Palestine.  Most people believe that the public education system is not adequate to give their children the kind of education they need to succeed in life.  Therefore, there is a thriving community of private schools located in all towns of any significant size.  The private schools are all religion based—Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Evangelical/Protestant, or a school like the Friends School which was founded by the Quakers. 

The public school system is segregated by sex so that there are separate schools for the boys and girls from elementary right through high school.  Children go to school for 15 years starting at the age of three which would equate to our pre-school program.  In the outlying villages where they cannot afford to run separate facilities for boys and girls, they attend the same school but the classrooms are segregated with the boys on one side and the girls on the other.  Originally, the Friends School was also separated by sex but now the two schools are co-educational with one housing pre-school through 6th grade and the other building is for 7th through 12th grades.

Because this culture is predominately Muslim, and because the Muslims’ traditional weekend is on Thursday and Friday, and because the Christians’ weekend is usually Saturday and Sunday, and because many Muslims attend the private Christian schools (that’s a lot of becauses!), a compromise was worked out so that students in the private schools go to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday thus allowing each religious group to retain one of their traditional weekend days—the Muslims on Friday and the Christians on Sunday.  The public school students attend classes on Sunday through Thursday using the Muslim traditional weekend of Friday and Saturday without classes.  The religious schools are mostly co-educational with a few exceptions such as St. Joseph School for girls in Bethlehem.  All the children, regardless of being in public or private schools, were uniforms.

I asked Sulimah if performing community service is part of the curriculum in the schools especially in the high schools.  She said that it is required in the Friends School but she doesn’t think it is in the public schools, and she didn’t know how many of the other private schools include it as part of their curriculum. 

As I looked around Birzeit, I could see many opportunities for community service in just keeping the town streets, sidewalks, and adjoining areas clean of litter.  Litter begets litter, and I remember when the high school students at Great Path Academy on our campus needed to perform some community service the teacher came to me for suggestions.  At that time, I was responsible for the Grounds Department and knew what a hard time the guys had trying to keep the cigarette butts cleaned up.  This seemed like a good project for the students and the feedback we received was that they were totally amazed at how much cigarette litter there was on the campus.  Hopefully, it made them aware of the problem so that they will not become litter bugs themselves.  I had wanted to visit the Catholic High School, which was part of the complex where I stayed in Birzeit, to find an answer to this question about community service but I did not have enough time to make that arrangement before returning to Bethlehem.

Sulimah and I had an enjoyable hour and a half drive to Bethlehem and it gave me the opportunity to ask her many questions about topics of interest to me.  I have decided to save those topics of discussion for a later blog when I might not have a daily activity to relate.

Sleep well, my friends.  I miss you and look forward to seeing and talking with you after I return in 10 days.

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Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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