Holy Land’s economic crisis forces pupils to withdraw from Christian schools

Covid precautions before school.(Photo: Friends of the Holy Land)

Christian schools in the Holy Land are struggling as families withdraw their children because of economic hardship brought on by the pandemic.

The Holy Land’s Christian schools rely on fees in the absence of financial support from local authorities, but in a region that relies heavily on tourism, many families have been left unable to meet the cost. 

The charity Friends of the Holy Land, which supports Christians in the region, said Covid had devastated livelihoods after more than a year without pilgrims and tourists, placing a huge burden on families. 

The cycle of lockdowns means many families have used up all their reserves, leaving them unable to meet the fees for Christian schools – which are attended by both Muslims and Christians. 

Suhail Diabes, principal at the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, said: “It’s an unprecedented crisis.

“Parents do not have work to pay their school fees. In Bethlehem in particular the majority of our Christian families earn their money in the tourism sector, which is blocked now.

“In 24 years of working in schools, I have never faced such a situation. If the schools collapse, hundreds of Christian families will not find any income.”

Abeer Hanna, executive director of 13 schools run by the Roman Catholic Church in the West Bank, said she had heard of families having to choose which children to withdraw from school. 

She said that over the course of the pandemic, 300 pupils had been forced to leave the school because of financial struggles at home.

Another struggling school is the specialist School of Joy in Bethlehem, which teaches children with learning difficulties, Down syndrome, autism or severe trauma. Friends of the Holy Land is now the school’s only financial provider and it is in urgent need of extra funds to keep its vital services running.

Friends of the Holy Land has launched a sponsored Pentecost Challenge encouraging people to walk, cycle, swim or run in a virtual pilgrimage of 84 miles – the distance from Bethlehem to Nazareth – to help children stay in school and keep the schools afloat. 

People taking part in the Pentecost Challenge can plot their distance online and access videos from the locations along the way that include local history and insights from teachers and priests.

Episcopalian priest Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun from Christ Church, Nazareth, who will ‘welcome’ pilgrims at the final destination said: “Some families cannot pay school fees including those at our Christ School. They are hoping for some support to offer a life with dignity for their children.

“Please continue to support Friends of the Holy Land so we can offer a candle, a light of hope for our people, our students and our families.

“In Nazareth and the villages around, people are still hoping to get the good news and get new hope after the pandemic, as they wait to return to their jobs, as we try to support them with so many difficult situations in their families.”

To find out more about the Pentecost Challenge visit:www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/pentecost

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