Child Sponsor visits Rawdat El-Zuhur in JerusalemWritten by Rev. Jean Doane
April 22, 2014
It was finally Saturday, February 8, 2014, and I was going to visit Rawdat El Zuhur in person! My husband Jim and I have sponsored 3 students at Rawdat El-Zuhur through the Global Ministries Child Sponsorship Program over the past several years. Visiting the school was one of the highlights of our Global Ministries trip to Israel-Palestine with Jeff and Janet Wright this year. Jeff is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor in Fort Collins, CO. Janet is a social worker who has worked with Global Ministries partner YMCA of East Jerusalem to help Palestinians, both children and adults, to cope with the trauma caused by living under Israeli military occupation. Jeff and Janet arranged for us to visit with a dozen different GM partners in the Occupied Territories, including Rawdat El-Zuhur.
Our visit to Rawdat came near the end of our tour, so by the time we arrived there, our group had an understanding of just how difficult it is for children like those at the school and their parents and teachers to live as refugees in their own homeland. They live either in refugee camps or in small, crowded neighborhoods surrounded by 11 foot high concrete barriers that cut families off from one another and separate farmers from their farms and olive orchards. Palestinians are not allowed to travel freely into or out of their communities. Many school children must go through check points to get from home to school each day. Both children and teachers must submit to searches of their backpacks and book bags by heavily armed Israeli soldiers on a daily basis. This is why Jim and I chose to sponsor children at Rawdat El-Zuhur: we wanted to support children and their families in a place where growing up can be very difficult. This school provides an oasis, a sanctuary, a place where the children can learn and play safely within the walls of this “Garden of Flowers” (the meaning of Rawdat El-Zuhur in Arabic).
Raeda Jasser, Rawdat’s principal, had quite a program planned for our visit. After learning from Raeda something of the history of the school, which has been in existence since 1952, we took a tour of the classes. The sixth graders stood at their desks and sang “We Shall Overcome” for us in English! That brought tears to many an eye. It spoke to us of the commitment of the school, the children, and all the Palestinians we met on this tour to non-violent resistance to the oppression under which they live. It would be so easy for children like these to grow up with bitterness and a desire for revenge, yet we saw the opposite: children learning to care about others and to act on their legitimate desire for justice and independence in positive ways, in the manner of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A younger class sang a song of national pride in Arabic for us. Later a group of upper grade children danced for us the dubkhe, a traditional Palestinian folk dance, and five younger students played dorbekes, Palestinian drums. But I must not forget to mention the kindergarteners—these little ones really stole our hearts. We watched as their teacher led them in a song using a fuzzy little lamb hand puppet. They were very enthusiastic singers. Afterward, I went around the circle and got a smile from almost every child.
Toward the end of our morning at Rawdat, we visited the science room where we presented the teacher with two sets of rock samples for teaching geology sent as a gift from Jeff’s church in Colorado. Our final gift was for Principal Raeda Jasser. I had the honor of presenting her a geode, the gift we gave each of the GM partners we visited. A geode, or thunder egg, is a rock that is rough on the outside, but when you split it open, you see the beautiful crystals inside. The geode represents the truth that although the life of the Palestinian people under occupation is difficult, the Palestinian people are the treasure inside, the vibrant, living stones of the Holy Land.
Jim and I are grateful to have had the chance to visit Rawdat El-Zuhur. We continue to sponsor a 3rd grade girl, and we now have a new student, a kindergarten boy. We look forward to exchanging letters and pictures with both children as they progress through the school. We encourage everyone to get involved in Global Ministries Child Sponsorship. Maybe you, too, will someday have the opportunity to visit your sponsorship site and interact with the children there. I guarantee the experience will be one you will cherish.
Rev. Jean Doane
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