“The challenges are great, but with God’s grace and the loving care of Barnabas Fund we shall survive them all,” said Miss Amal Behnam, the head teacher of a Christian school in Bethlehem supported by Barnabas Fund.
Covid lockdown has severely affected Bethlehem, a city whose people (especially the Christian minority) are very dependent on tourism. The parents of the school’s pupils have been finding it extremely difficult to earn a living and are “struggling for daily supply of food and most urgent needs, not to mention the urgent need for medication in case of illness”, wrote Miss Amal to Barnabas Fund. Many parents have not been able to afford to pay the school fees for their children. When local benefactors occasionally provided aid for schools during lockdown, it never went to this school, which is unique in the area because nearly all its students are from Christian families.
But, praise God, with the help of donations from Barnabas Fund supporters, the school has survived. Everyone played their part. The teachers and other staff took a 50% cut in their salaries. Twelve-year-old Emily, from one of the better-off families, saved up her pocket money and then brought into school a package of coins, which she asked to be used to help pay the fees of needier children. Above all, they were fervent in prayer.
A prayer from St Aphrem’s School
“Thank You, O Lord, for protecting us from serious dangers. Thank You, Lord, for Your love through Barnabas Fund who have cherished our school, our children, our staff and our church. Thank You, O Lord, for healthy children and healthy staff. Thank You, O Lord, for Your continuous support and for helping our school survive the pandemic. Thank You, Lord, for listening to our daily prayers.”
Children given an excellent start in life
Christian children in Bethlehem face harassment and discrimination in their daily lives, and non-Christian schools can be hostile places for them.
St Aphrem’s, which was built mainly with funds from Barnabas, has been providing Christian children with an outstanding education in a loving Christian environment for 18 years. With the support of Barnabas, it can offer minimal fees to needy families so that even the poorest Christian children can attend.
This excellent start in life will enable students to get better jobs and, in turn, support their families and strengthen the whole Christian community.
St Aphrem’s is currently ranked fourth among all schools in the District of Bethlehem with 88.8% of the school’s graduates getting averages above 90 in government exams. Some of its students have won scholarships for further studies elsewhere.
There are 58 employees (full-time or part-time) including 46 teachers, four administrators, one accountant, one secretary, five cleaners and one security guard. These provide much-needed income for Christian families in Bethlehem.
Years of loving care and Bible teaching transform troubled child
“I am so happy and proud to be at St Aphrem’s School,” said 11-year-old Jerry whose father died seven years ago. “I feel they all love me. I now know why Mum was always crying. My teacher told me that only I can stop her tears and pain. I did not understand before these words. It was hard not finding Dad when we went back home. I thought he was coming back one day. But he never did. Miss Mary read us stories from the Bible and explained that Jesus is taking care of us, even my dad.”
Miss Mary was the special needs teacher dedicated to caring for Jerry, a very disturbed child, with challenging behaviour, who often refused to go to school. Now, at last, her years of patient attention and loving care are bearing clear fruit in Jerry’s life. He arrives early for school and runs eagerly into his classroom. He does all his homework, and wants to make sure his mother never cries again. Jerry says he has promised Jesus to help and protect his mother, finish his schooling and support his family when he grows up.
Strict Covid hygiene rules remain in place
Following lockdown disruptions, the 2021/2022 academic year began in early August with 660 students. First back in class were the Grade 12 students, getting ready for their final year in school; other students from 1st Grade to 11th returned to their desks a fortnight later. The kindergarten children had their own start date two days after that.
Classes meet five days a week from 7.45 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. or 2 p.m. depending on grade level. Strict hygiene rules to guard against Covid remain in place. Students were happy to be back at school, but teachers noticed that their behaviour had deteriorated after 18 months of irregular attendance, and levels of aggression had risen. They were restive and needed a lot of attention from their teachers.
The head teacher met with a child behavioural specialist and arranged psycho-social and drama sessions and workshops to ease the levels of pupil stress. Morning devotions, prayers, Bible readings and spiritual talks for the children were also dedicated to the same purpose.
Project reference 65-420