The school’s mission becomes extra meaningful when you look at the immediate surroundings. Because the school is located in the occupied Westbank, pupils are regularly confronted with the consequences of occupation: the separation wall that runs through Bethlehem, military checkpoints, agression, road blocks, soldiers in the streets. Many pupils have some form of trauma in various degrees of depth, that influences their behaviour and academic results. Many children also are affected by poverty, malnutrition and lack of perspective.
Hope Flowers School offers these children education and support in a safe environment, and has been doing so for over 30 years. The school’s mission is explicitly humanitarian, and is realised via the curriculum and care for the children. The approach is holistic, it’s a mix of education, physical care, psycho-social support, and a building that is also accessible for handicapped children. The fact that this approach has been taken for over 30 years is a clear sign of continuity. And now sustainability is coming into the picture with plans for water recycling and solar energy, even as these developments are not obvious in the context of Westbank economic restrictions imposed by occupation. For Hope Flowers School, sustainability is linked to self sufficiency, thus enhancing independence.
What makes the school special
- Modern educational vision
Hope Flowers has been a pioneer in peace education, human rights, justice and equality, and the school creates special facilities (both educational and material) to provide access for all children to a safe environment and quality education. That is not obvious in the occupied Westbank, due to lacking budgets, violence in the streets that prevents children to leave their homes etc. The mission of the school is indicated on a plaque near the entrance: “we are educating for the well-being of humanity”. Education at Hope Flowers is of good quality, and the curriculum and educational materials are regularly reviewed and updated.
The school has an eminent reputation, going well beyond the immediate surroundings of Bethlehem. Alumni all testify that the school has taught them an ‘open mind’ attitude, another thing that is not obvious when growing up in the context of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Pupils and their parents have inspiring stories to tell about what the school means to them. Read the testimonials here: http://www.vriendenvanhopeflowers.nl/wordpress/?cat=46 and view them here: http://www.vriendenvanhopeflowers.nl/wordpress/?cat=43
- Resilience against all oppression
The school founder, Hussein Issa, was convinced that “every act of violence comes from an unhealed wound” – and he acted accordingly. His son Ibrahim Issa, the current school director, runs the school along the very same lines. The school is special in many aspects, but especially inspring are the perseverance and resilience that the school shows in finding new ways time and again to express its philosophy, in reply to the many tenions and escalations in the direct surroundings.
- Link to the Community Center
The school has an important example role and and leadership role in the community, through its respect for different religions and the focus on peace, human values, and equal and civil rights. The Community Center that is linked to the school, supports parents and others in the community with courses and training focused on civic and economic competencies like household budgeting, hygiene and health, women empowerment, and small business skills.
- Scaleable impact
The school has developed an approach to trauma handling that has received much recognition in the region, and that is being adapted by other schools in a wide area around Bethlehem. The Community Center provides training to teachers from those other schools, using the “train the trainer” approach. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been supporting this trauma handling programme for a few years already.
The school has been a private school since its inception in 1984, meaning that it is financed in part from tuitions that parents pay, and in part by supporting organisations (foundations, private donors, and agencies). Because of the difficult economic situation in the Palestinian territories, many parents cannot afford the tuition fee. Supporting organisations therefore play an important role. Because of the private funding, the school can operate totally indepently. The PA has granted the school the required educational license.
- International network
There are supporting organisations in The Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States and Switzerland, and there are some private donors that regularly donate to the school. Over the years, many volunteers have visited the school and have dedicated their skills and energies in supporting the school in a very active way.
- Open attitude
Before the separation wall was built, there were pupils from three religious backgrounds in the school: muslim, christian and jewish (but since 2002 the Israeli government doesn’t allow Israeli citizens anymore to go to the Palestinian territories – except the settlements). There are some 350 pupils these days, aged 5 to 14 years, and about 50/50 boys and girls. The school explicitly wants to be open to ALL children, and therefore there are also special facilities for handicapped children.
- Broad care for children
The ongoing conflict impacts children in Bethlehem and surroundings, and the school notices an clear increase in pupils with mental and learning disorders, often caused by traumatic experiences. Also the number of pupils with physical disabilities is increasing, in part as a consequence of poor health care conditions. Access to good medical facilities is a problem, and malnutrition is increasing at an alarming rate due to the deteriorating economic situation in the OPT. The school has therefore started the “child protection programme” which is a combination of providing physical and mental care: hot meals and psycho-social care are both part of the programme. The school does more than provide education, showing in the special facilities for disabled children and also the way that parents are involved in what goes on in the school.
- Impact in the region
The “child protection programme” caters to such important needs, that some 100 children from other schools in and around Bethlehem are being referred to Hope Flowers School for remedial teaching, psycho-social support, and hot meals. One component in the “child protection programme” is offering special educational instruments – both for children with physical disabilities as well as with mental disorders leading to learning and behaviour problems. Children with trauma often develop some form of autism dysfunction. Hope Flowers School has developed a special expertise in trauma handling, and is also training teachers from other schools in this area.
- Extra facilities
The school has a dedicated computer room, a lab for doing physics and chemistry instruction, a separate room for remedial teaching and a classroom with materials that fit with the Montessori approach of ‘haptic’ instruction. Next to the main building there is a vegetable garden that is maintained with the help of parents and that also plays a role in biology and gardening instruction. The crop yields from this garden are used in preparing the hot meals that are part of the “child protection programme”. One floor of the main building is equipped with dorm rooms and showers, providing a ‘boarding’ option to children that live further remote from the school. Hope Flowers also has its own small school bus for transporting pupils between their home and the school.
The school’s impact
“None of our former students has been involved in violence.”
Ibrahim Issa, school director, in an interview published on the school website.
“Most of all the school has cared for me and taught me an open mind.”
Various graduates, interviewed in June 2016, in a short school movie that is to be released soon.
Layered, integrated approach
Lives of pupils