Journey to Palestine: New School Year an Ocean Away

September 10, 2019
Katelyn Kenney

If you’ve been following this series, you know the Diocese of Jerusalem has some amazing institutions under its jurisdiction (including hospitals and clinics you might’ve heard about if you ever heard Heather speak about UTO). The schools in the diocese hold a special significance because they are raising the next generation to face the challenges of the day, embrace their gifts, and lead with kindness. Every school we visited had one thing in common: the students had a passion for learning. I know that sounds cheesy (and let’s be real, I’m sure there are a few high school students who are less than enthused about biology), but every classroom we walked into had an excited energy. From the children singing songs and giving high-fives in the primary grades at St. George’s School in Jerusalem, to the high school student at Christ Anglican School in Nazareth who ran out of the classroom as we were leaving to tell us how much she loved her teacher, the message was clear: schools are where we find hope.

The educational system, from what I can remember, is very tricky and very limited in the region where the Diocese of Jerusalem is located, which includes parts of Israel and the West Bank. Israelis are typically favored by the Israeli educational agencies, and schools with primarily Palestinian students don’t always receive equal funding. Since the schools are operated by the diocese, students do pay tuition. However, the administration won’t turn away students whose families can’t afford to pay. This generosity is crucial for Palestinian families struggling to access education in Israeli-occupied areas. Today, many of the diocesan schools’ populations are primarily Muslim, not only because the communities know the schools with diocesan support are providing quality education, but also because they can’t be admitted into the Israeli schools.

Some of the administrators we spoke with noted a difference in demeanor between children attending schools in places like Jerusalem and Nazareth compared to schools located in the West Bank. For example, the principal of Arab Evangelical Episcopal School in Ramallah told us that its students don’t have to endure the pestering that students in the West Bank often face on their way to school or sometimes in school. Discrimination is a constant for Palestinians living in the occupied territories. One place that takes a radical approach to inclusion is the school at Princess Basma Centre, which we previously highlighted. The Centre’s school mainstreams students with differing abilities in most of its grade levels. Students with higher-level needs still get the assistance they require, while other high-functioning students are able to learn with their peers without feeling ostracized. Having a younger brother with autism, I know how impactful mainstreaming can be.

Throughout our journey, Heather and I were looking for the answer to one question: Where can we find hope in this place that has been mired in decades of conflict? We ended up finding it in a few small moments, but as I said before, we truly felt it in the schools. That’s why, looking ahead, I’m so excited the Diocese of Jerusalem has received a UTO Grant to cross educational boundaries and create interactive learning practices to connect Christian and Muslim students across the Middle East. Arriving in Jerusalem, I never could’ve foreseen the people I would meet, the places I would go, and the memories I would make. Thankfully, UTO provides an opportunity to connect and engage with people doing God’s work, so we not only can support them and strengthen our network, but we also can educate ourselves about the world outside our own communities and share those stories.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the recap of my trip through the Diocese of Jerusalem. I wish I could play back every moment for you, but I hope someday you can experience it for yourself.

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