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Sponsor's update report from Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories from 2009

Child sponsorship Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories
Child sponsorship Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories

Child sponsor's update report from the SOS Children's Village Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories from 2009

Report from Summer 2009

A half year passed and it is a great pleasure to greet you again as a valuable and important member of our world – wide family whose kind support helps us to provide a better environment to your sponsored facility.

The political impasse in relation to both Palestinian factions inability to form a unity government and the subsequent stalling of the peace process has significantly damaged socio-economic conditions further in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT).  The split between Palestinian factions has only exacerbated further an already deteriorating situation as a result of many years of occupation.

In the beginning of 2009 there were 94 children living in the village, during the year 17 new children were admitted and eight children moved to SOS Youth Facilities.  Throughout the year a total of seven children left the village and were re-united with their biological families after review of each individual case showed that the children would be better served living with their biological families.

SOS Bethlehem was proud to host our SOS Children International President in our village to honor our SOS mothers and grant them ceremonial rings for their many years of service.  Rings of commitment were presented to five SOS mothers; the event was attended by many important figures in Bethlehem and featured performances by our SOS children.

Annual events hosted in the village include: Mother’s Day, National Reading Week, Open Day, graduation party for those moving to the Youth Facilities, Eid Al-Adha, Eid Al-Fitr, and Christmas.  SOS children were invited to Palestinian Child Week (hosted by the International Network for the Rights of the Child) in Ramallah with 250 children from other associations. World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse was celebrated in the Children's Village by conducting a child rights workshop for SOS children and the painting of a collective mural.

Music Therapy is a relatively new field and SOS Children's Village Bethlehem is the first institution to offer a scholarship to a Palestinian musician to study music therapy abroad and return to work with SOS Children Palestine.  SOS Children Palestine will be pioneers in this field and will be able to offer children a special kind of therapy that they have not had access to before.  This scholarship is being offered in conjunction with Music as Therapy International and the efforts of music therapist.

For the sixth year in a row SOS Bethlehem hostess the Global Peace Games in the spirit of using good sportspersonship to promote peace.  The games hosted over 1,000 participants with 28 local associations participating.  For the first time this year a girls football team was formed and entered into the week-long events.

Throughout the year SOS children participated in various activities such as swimming, Tai Chi, Sports Day, Chess competitions, table tennis competitions, Karate, Violin lessons, Storytelling, and various art projects such as paper mache, and making flutes from recycled materials.  The village also took several field trips throughout the year to nearby recreational parks, local theaters, drama workshops, and most notably a tour of the Presidential Palace in Ramallah.

Despite the difficult situation there are success stories to be told.  Two young girls, Navine & Najat, were extremely shy and had trouble socializing with others until they became Violin students at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.  Now they have performed in many local shows and their personalities have developed to come out of their shells and assert themselves more.  Hind, a girl who came to us very ill as a young child, has now been granted four certificates nominating her as ‘the best student’.

A new multi-purpose playground completed construction; this was funded by local donations and was used this year for several events in the village.  Landscaping around the three new homes was completed in August and the homes are now prepared for living.  The aunties’ house is already occupied by a total of eight SOS aunties.  Consultation and preparation of village renovation began in June with plans to begin renovations in early 2009.

SOS Youth Facilities:

There are a total of four youth houses (2 for boys and 2 for girls) associated with CV Bethlehem. A total of 43 youth are houses in the four Youth Facilities; 21 boys in two youth houses living with three male youth leaders and 22 girls in two youth houses living with two female youth leaders.  This represents a total increase of three youth from last year (one male & two female).

In addition a total of 12 pre-teens (six boys & six girls) are in the preparation period making regular visits to the Youth Facilities and a total of 9 youth (four boys & 5 girls) are currently living in semi-independent housing.

Throughout the year all youth received academic and professional career counseling, participated in volunteer work, summer camps, Global Peace Games, and several workshops- mostly notably a workshop about SOS Child Protection Policy.  As individuals our youth participated in football teams, Debkah troupes, scouts, and various clubs with other schools.  Four of our youth received very high marks in school and were rewarded with praise and certificates for their hard work.

This year a total of seven youth were transferred from semi-independent housing to independence. Two sets of siblings have rented houses and are working to support one another.  Out of the seven a total of five are currently employed with a steady income to support themselves- and often their siblings as well. 

SOS Nursery School - Bethlehem:

The nursery school included 89 students which were reduced to 80 students for the fall 2008 school year.  This reduction was due to the fact that our true capacity is only 80 students and previously we had over-enrolled our classrooms.

The major activities for the year include: birthday celebrations, Mother’s Day, Parent-Student Visit Day, celebration of religious and national holidays, educational field-trips, parent-teacher conferences, and provision of healthy meals to our students.  The nursery school continues to participate in and create diverse activities for our students to help develop their capacities and prepare them for a bright educational future.  Our goals is to provide individualized support to children based on their needs.

The major achievements for the year include: a graduation ceremony for our children that was hosted in our school yard that was attended by the Ministry of Education’s Nursery School Department, students’ families, and teaching staff.  Our nursery school also prepared several events around the annual olive harvest events that connected our students with an ancient Palestinian tradition. 

SOS School - Bethlehem:

In June 2008 the school year closed with 370 students serving grades 1-8.  The fall 2008 school year began with 413 students serving grades 1-9.  A total of ten students were offered full or partial scholarships based on extreme social circumstances.

The school maintains a positive relationship with the French Consulate who donated to support the acquirement of a computer and French learning materials which are now located in the library. Students continued to participate in the Educational Club with the Environmental Education Centre.  A festival was held in the school complete with a science fair that all students and teachers participated in fully.  Construction continued in the school to build an external bathroom for the playground while plans still remain in place to continue expansion for future plans to expand the school until the 12th grade. 

SOS Family Strengthening Prevention of Child Abandonment Programme (FSP)

FSP- Gaza Strip

FSP started in Gaza in 2004 and has continued to expand its services each year to include more families who can gain from its services.  This year FSP Gaza cared for 900 children a total of 187 families throughout Gaza.  This year a total of 200 new children were added and the programme spread to the Northern Jabalia District and is now present in six different geographic areas throughout the Gaza Strip.

The extremely difficult situation facing the Gaza Strip as a result of an 18 month blockade has severely damaged the local economy, left many goods scare in local markets, and put continuous pressure of families who are either unable to find basic goods or are unable to afford the black market prices of basic goods to care for their families. Services being offered for children were focused on academic support, along with medical and psycho-social support.  FSP co-ordinator and FSP volunteers have been quite successful at using existing services to ensure access to basic services for the children.  Several events have also been held to educate children about their rights and SOS Children Protection Policy.  Remedial educational support for children with weaknesses has been facilitated through a partnership with UNRWA. 

FSP- West Bank

SOS Bethlehem started FSP in the West Bank in 2005 and has continued to expand every year offer its services to more children.  Currently FSP in the West Bank works with a total of 800 children making up 182 families.  In 2008 FSP West Bank will expanded to include 200 more children. Medication has been provided for many children In addition several workshops were held for caregivers to improve their ability to care for their children.  Some of these workshops included: basic nutrition, violence against women, women’s rights, early marriage, agricultural relief, and bee keeping. 

A major development in the programme includes a partnership deal struck with SOS National Office and the YMCA to provide micro-credit loans.

SOS Psycho-Social Relief Centres

SOS Bethlehem opened the first SOS Psycho-Social Medical Mobile Centre in 2003 as a response to the harsh political situation here in Palestine and the traumatic effects the Israeli Occupation has had on children’s lives throughout Palestine.

Currently there are five permanent Psycho-Social Relief Centres in the West Bank.  Each centre is staffed with a social worker and psychologist and a psychiatrist who is meant to visit each centre once a week.  The centres provide social and psychological services to children and their caregivers.  These activities include: workshops and seminars for women and children, counseling sessions for women and children, weekly group therapy sessions, individual sessions, and weekly psychological support for children.  The workshop topics vary from a child/youth development issues to personal development issues such as dealing with depression, marital counseling, and other important issues.

The mobile centre worked hard to combat the extremely conservative community in Salfit and the resultant social stigma around psycho-social disorders.  The centre staff worked directly with families, mothers, schools, community leaders, and the mayor to spread awareness.  Throughout the year a total of 3,614 child cases were seen, counseling was offered to 709 mothers, a total of eight training programmes were held, and 880 blood tests were analysed.

Mohammad Shalaldeh

SOS National Director

Palestine