Until the year 2000 the town of Bethlehem, located in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, was able to enjoy a certain level of well-being due to activities linked to tourism and opportunities for employment in nearby Jerusalem and, more generally, in Israeli territory. However, with the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the continual worsening of the situation, there was a nearly complete end to travel to Israeli territory, along with a substantial reduction in tourist activity. Employment possibilities on the other side of the wall behind which the town finds itself barricaded are today almost nonexistent; and within the wall they are rare and irregular, thus explaining the difficult economic situation in which nearly all families find themselves.
With the support of numerous small donors, ATS pro Terra Sancta is providing aid to many needy families, helping them to overcome the difficulties of their children. The problems facing the families are of various types: some have economic difficulties while others experience social troubles, and all of these problems wind up affecting their children. Along with the Franciscan Social Service Office (FSSO) we are trying to help a large number of families in need in Bethlehem to cope with their difficulties, and to provide their children with a hope for the future.
We reproduce below the story of two children who are being supported by the social assistance and academic support programs coordinated by FSSO, with the support of ATS pro Terra Sancta:
Nizar is nine years old and comes from a large family. His favorite subject in school is Arabic, while he is having some difficulties in studying, and obtaining good marks, in English. At home he always helps his smaller brothers and sisters with their homework and tries to make himself as useful as possible. His family relies entirely on donations for support, since as a result of a serious accident his father Salem is unable to work, and his mother Layal has not managed to find employment as she has to take care of her husband. Their residence is very basic: several of the rooms lack windows and heat is provided by a gas stove, very expensive for them and highly dangerous, and they are barely able to put food on the table for their children. The Christian community has rallied around the family over the years, trying to help them and make sure that they do not lack the basic necessities, but for Layal and Salem it is humiliating to be in a position where they are unable to support their children.
Husam is six years old. At the age of two he lost his mother, who died after a long illness. The child remained with his father Johnny, an older man who found himself caring for two very small children. As he was unable to cope with the situation, after a short period of time Husam and his sister were entrusted to a congregation of sisters in Bethlehem who look after orphaned children. Husam, always with a smile on his face, is very happy to go to school. His favorite subject is art, and while he is having some problems with Italian his strong character and the support of his teachers are helping him to overcome these.
It is only through the support and contributions of numerous friends of the Holy Land that Nizar, Husam and many other children and younger people like them are able to continue with their studies, and face the problems in their families with serenity and hope.