Investing in Bethlehem’s children

In a context of instability, deprivation and conflict, a Christian school is offering Bethlehem’s children a safe and happy place to learn.

St Aphrem’s Christian School in Beith Jala is one of Barnabas Fund’s flagship projects in the region. At the start of the last school year, there were 232 students from the ages of 3 to 10, far too many for the building that was adequate when it first opened in 2002.

Such has been the popularity of the school that it has seen a growth in attendance of around 30 to 45 children each year.

With tourism on the up and increasing stability since the end of the intifada, the school expects demand to increase.

To accommodate as many children in the area as possible, the school recently undertook a major expansion. Two new floors were added to the building last year and changes were made to the existing space to make even more classrooms.

The additional space has made it possible to expand the range of programmes on offer to the children. One room has been fitted out with a science laboratory for the older children, and another for art and music lessons.

A large hall provides for gym and large group activities, such as drama and music recitals, and there are plans to create a resource room for students with special needs.

Something that many children in the UK take for granted in their own schools – running hot water – is a real delight to the children at St Aphrem’s as most of them come from homes that have to make do without it.

New water tanks were part of the extension, meaning that the school has a constant supply of clean water, a real concern in Bethlehem, particularly in the summertime.

“Everybody is so excited with the new facilities,” said St Aphrem’s head teacher Amal Benham.

The school is keen to retain a strong Christian identity, with the children starting each day with morning prayers in their classes. They also learn hymns and Christian songs, and pray together before meals.

Despite being situated in the birthplace of Jesus, Christians in Bethlehem still face discrimination and although unemployment is decreasing, prices are continuously rising, putting additional financial strains on the children’s families.

Despite the challenges, St Aphrem’s keeps on expanding. In the last three years, the school’s staff increased from 17 to 25 members, and a new kindergarten class got underway last year, providing education for 45 three-year-olds.

Ms Benham is positive about the school’s future.

“This is what makes us strong and determined to stay here: remembering that this is where Jesus lived.”

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