The Schools of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) are the educational ministry of the ELCJHL. They are designed to meet the needs of the Palestinian people as a whole. Teachers, administrators, and students are both Christian and Muslim with the student Muslim/Christian balance hovering around 50%-60% from each community. Muslim parents choose to send their children to these Christian schools because of their reputation for high educational standards. Children learn about each other’s religions as part of the school curriculum. The schools focus on embracing and empowering students and families in the region from all religious, economic, and social backgrounds. Two of the major goals of the ELCJHL are served through the schools: 1) To integrate peace education and culture, reinforce democracy, and encourage tolerance, co-existence, love, and respect toward others and 2) To ameliorate the communication process and encourage exchanges with local and international communities.
I have been working with the teachers, administrators, and staff there for several years, developing leadership potential and guiding the improvement of communication among school professionals for more productive interaction with each other, with students, and with parents. Another focus has been to guide teachers toward the improvement of instruction through a Peer Coaching program that is designed to foster cross-disciplinary communication and an open sharing of ideas and instructional strategies.
The delights of working in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, and Ramallah are difficult to capture in a few words, but I'll try. Working with professionals who have a passion for high quality education is the first delight, coupled with the experience of working with teachers who joyfully serve their students. The scope and intensity of the curriculum in these schools is astounding. Schoolteachers in the US would be overwhelmed with the schedules the ELCJHL teachers must follow as well as the numbers of students in each class-especially in the lower grades.
The good humor of Palestinians is reflected within the schools along with their commitment to support each other in an attitude of strength despite the many difficulties that present themselves as part of the Occupation. It is not unusual for electricity to be cut off in the middle of the day or for water to be diverted to the Settlements, leaving a school without these basic services. During one visit to a school, there had been no water at the school for two days, so disinfectant had to be poured into toilets to keep them running. Unfortunately, it was difficult to control the odor so I was advised to take a route through the school that by-passed the hallways where the student bathrooms were located. Even with such inconveniences, students and teachers continue their scheduled classes with attention and intention.
A final delight is the hospitality of the Palestinians: they are famous for welcoming strangers. This is reflected in the manner in which students greet visitors and the manner in which the adults open their classrooms to outsiders. I have enjoyed many class sessions in Arabic, German, and English as students are expected to become proficient in all three.
A final note: I expected the teachers and administrators to seize the opportunity of having an American in their midst to fill me with complaints and political concerns. Instead, those with whom I have interacted do not discuss the Occupation unless I ask direct questions about its effects upon them, and then it is only in private moments away from students.
Nadyne Guzmán served as a Short-term Volunteer in Jordan and Holy Land. She served with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.