The start of the new school year also marks the twelfth year of activity of the Boys’ Home in Bethlehem. The home of the Custody of the Holy Land offers children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 18, who are in difficult family situations, an alternative to their daily distress, a light illuminating the path of their lives.
Twenty-nine youngsters were taken in this year, some have just arrived, others have been included in the scholastic and human path of the Home for some years. Several figures make up a team of professionals with competences in different areas: the social workers and the psychologist, a central figure for the Home; the educators who follow the children in their ordinary needs; the teachers of the Holy land school who voluntarily support the youngsters during the time dedicated to study; two ladies in the kitchen and for the domestic work; a friar who, as well as being a presence of guarantee, represents a figure of an “elder brother”.
The project came into being from an idea of Fr. Amjad Sabbara, the current parish priest of St Saviour in Jerusalem. Fr. Sabbara, as he did the annual tour of blessing the homes of his parishioners, had noticed some unhappy situations; some children had to reckon with their parents’ divorce, others had to cope with drug-related issues, and there were also some cases of various kinds of domestic violence. Originally it was thought that the alternative could be a simple after-school club, to let the youngsters spend as much time as possible outside the home, engaged in study, They would thus have understood the importance of fulfilling their personal projects, to be able to still believe in a rosy future. Shortly afterwards, Fr. Amjad was transferred and he was replaced by Fr. Marwan Di’des.
Already in charge of the Holy Land School in Bethlehem, Fr. Marwan decided to link this project with the reality of the school. This way from an after-school club, with the consent of the then Custos, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, it became a residential project and the youngsters started to live there stably from the Monday to the Saturday afternoon, exactly as at home.
The objective, using the words of Fr. Di’des, is: “To help the youngsters see that living in a different way is possible, offering them the experience of a real family, a home, a quiet and calm place, without the presence of drugs and violence.”
When it opened, on 24th September 2007, there were eight boys. Already at Christmas, their number had risen to twelve and at the end of the school year, there were eighteen of them. Thanks to the collaboration with the Holy Land School, which started to act as a link, the cases at risk were intercepted and both the number of youngsters taken in and the approval of the population for this work grew. At present it is the parents themselves, uncles or neighbours, who report particular situations to those in charge of the facility.
The results have come with the years: several students who lived in this facility are now married or plan to marry and have a family. Others have worked very hard to buy a home. One boy, who came with a very poor school report, is now a teacher of mathematics and physics.
The young guests of the facility, when they have completed their path, are always pleased to return, making the home an important landmark in their lives.
Everything started from being entrusted to the Lord, a light in adversity, which becomes an important presence in the lives of the youngsters. They are thus able to understand, through their experience of life, both the foundations of the faith and trust in others.
From the very beginning, the project has found solid economic foundations in the support from the donors of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land. One hundred and nineteen youngsters, and consequently 119 families from Bethlehem and neighbouring Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, have already experienced an alternative to the concept of family that they knew. The new person in charge, Fr. Fadi Azar, is also part of this important path with joy.
The end of the path is to guarantee for the youngsters the opportunity to build up serene memories of childhood, to sow a spirit of joy that they can find when they are adults, when they think back to their childhood. Like a great light, which illuminates the road which leads to a better future.