As pupils return to school in the UK, Christian schools across the Holy Land are facing an unprecedented crisis as Covid restrictions leave families unable to pay school fees.
Across the region Covid has devastated livelihoods placing a huge burden on families. Eighty per cent of the economy in Nazareth and Bethlehem is based on tourism and the continued absence of tourists and pilgrims means that many families have spent their reserves and have no income to meet the fees for Christian schools.
Ecumenical charity Friends of the Holy Land is supporting families in this time of crisis to protect children from further trauma and is launching a Pentecost Challenge to raise funds to help keep pupils in their schools. Running from now until 30 June the challenge gives people the opportunity to walk/run/cycle/swim from ‘Bethlehem to Nazareth’, a total of 84 miles, to raise funds to help support education across the region and help keep pupils in their schools – with the opportunity to hear from those involved in supporting schools and Christian communities along the way.
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 Catholic Church in the West Bank spoke of families having to decide which children to remove and added that 300 pupils had been forced to leave due to economic circumstance so far.
People taking part in the Pentecost Challenge can plot their distance online and will be sent video links from the locations they ‘arrive’ at along the way, including insights from teachers and priests and into local history.
Friends of the Holy Land’s representative in our Diocese is Deacon David Arblaster of St Aelred’s Parish in Harrogate. For more information visit: www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk