St. Andrews Parish recently took an Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) organized Living Stones Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Monica Clark, a member of St. Andrews Parish in Ohio, had the opportunity to meet and visit with Christine Loulas, the child she sponsors through HCEF’s Child Sponsorship Program (CSP). For Monica, this was one of the most special moments of her life changing pilgrimage experience.
Christine is a Christian Palestinian and a third grade student at the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala, Bethlehem. Christine’s education is supported by Monica through Monica’s participation in the HCEF CSP. Monica’s sponsorship not only helps secure a place for Christine in a Christian school, but it provides financial support to the school in order to assist it in continuing to provide a solid Christian education for the children of the local community. The sustainability and strength of the Christian community in the Holy Land is vitally dependent upon their ability to send their children to local Christian schools. Loss of community and social isolation are only two of the many hardships they face because of their decreasing population.
Monica’s visit was a very special occasion for her and forChristine. Monica remarked that her sponsorship did not simply represent a humble donation into Christine’s general education, but it represented an investment into the life of a young girl who would one day turn into an adult serving her local community. Thus for Monica, her sponsorship represents an investment into the future development of the Christian community in the Holy Land. Coupled with the joy of meeting and talking with young Christine, Monica voiced her encouragement for others to participate in HCEF’s Child Sponsorship Program.
The HCEF Child Sponsorship Program was established in 1999 as a response to the dire financial situation facing the Holy Land’s Christian schools. These schools have incurred high deficits due to rising operation costs, costs of maintenance as well as teacher’s salaries. Despite this, the Holy Land’s Christian schools refuse to turn children away, and have kept their doors open to families who cannot cover tuition fees by means of granting subsidies for their educational costs. Unfortunately, more and more families are requiring such subsidies due to the rising cost of living. With rising costs, and an increasing number of families who cannot afford tuition, the Holy Land’s Christian schools have been facing very difficult financial times.
Through HCEF’s Child Sponsorship Program, the West is linked with a child at a Christian school in the Holy Land. Through monthly donations of $25.00 or an annual gift of $300.00, the sponsor supports the Christian education of a child in the Holy Land by supporting the school in its provision of a Christian education to the sponsored child.
HCEF President and CEO, Rateb Rabie, KCHS, states that “Participation in The Child Sponsorship Program allows the school to remain open and functioning, thereby serving the educational needs of the Christian Palestinian community in general. The Sponsorship program continues to be a vital link between the Christian communities of the West and the Palestinian Christian community through the development of Christian solidarity through personal, interactive relationships between the sponsors and children by means of communication through letters and photos throughout the year.”
Altogether, there are 15,000 Christian students in need of such sponsorship – and HCEF endeavors to find each of them sponsors from amongst the Christians of the West.
Alana Foster is a student researcher from New Zealand and visiting volunteer who stayed at HCEF’s Guesthouse in Bethlehem. She is currently working on her Master’s Degree at the Victoria University of Wellington, and is conducting research for her thesis in the West Bank on issues of gender in peace building approaches.