From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Past the Checkpoints, Palestinian Students Find a Safe Haven

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Fri, 21 Feb 2003 12:32:40 -0600

FEATURE: Past the Checkpoints, Palestinian Students Find a Safe
Haven in Beit Hanina
LWF Program Helps Christian and Muslim Trainees Bridge Religious,
Cultural Differences

EAST JERUSALEM/GENEVA, 21 February 2003 (LWI) - Smiling carpentry
trainees gather in a workshop for a group photograph. There is a
table tennis game going on in a recreation room. Young female
trainees proudly display their skills in a telecommunications
classroom. It all appears so ordinary, so safe.

For young trainees, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Vocational
Training Center (VTC) in Beit Hanina is indeed a safe haven from
an outside world where violence, curfews and daily harassment and
delays at military checkpoints are facts of life. Yet, there are
times when trainees bring their anger and  frustration with them
to the center, shattering the calm. Fights and arguments can break
out over the most trivial of things.

`"Students really suffer, they are the targeted age," says Randa
Hilal Nassar, the center's director. Ramallah is only seven or ten
minutes away but it can take trainees up to an-hour or longer to
get to the center from their homes. A lot depends on the mood of
the soldiers manning the checkpoints or the color of a trainee's
identity card.

Hoping to defuse anger and frustration, the VTC provides
counseling and a sports program for the trainees being prepared
for the workplace and so help build a Palestinian civil society.
For those unable to travel to the center from their homes because
of closures and checkpoint delays, the VTC boards as many as 60
trainees, putting an extra burden on the center's strained

It is a struggle at the best of times to keep the center open and
operating. More so now with the Palestinian economy in ruins, the
infrastructure shattered, unemployment as high as 80 percent in
some areas, and with a majority of Palestinians living on less
than two US dollars a day.

"We live on the edge of a catastrophe," says Nassar, a mother of
three with an electronics degree from a British university.
Despite the difficulties, the center's enrolment keeps rising -
currently at 183, compared to 102 two years ago - as an increasing
number of parents seek a safe environment with a reputation for
quality education for their children.

For decades, the VTC provided training for males only in such
trades as auto mechanics, woodworking, heating and plumbing. In
2000, it added telecommunications training for females and added
two female faculty members to the staff. There are now 23 females
enrolled at the center and the goal is eventually to have an equal
number of male and female trainees.

Because of the decreased ability of Palestinian families to pay
for school fees, the VTC has set up a program to enable trainees
to meet such costs through their own work. About 15 percent of the
center's trainees are Christian, the rest Muslim. A positive
spin-off of this mix is that it helps bridge religious and
cultural differences and fosters understanding. Some of the Muslim
trainees from rural villages had never met Christians before
enrolling at the center.

Nassar may understand the frustration that drives young people to
violence but does not condone it. "It does not get us anywhere, it
works against the Palestinians," she says. Despite the ongoing
conflict and the daily harassment of Palestinians, she remains 
cautiously optimistic about the future.

"At the end, people cannot live like this for ever," she says.
"They want a just peace."

(By Michael McAteer)

(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 136 member churches in 76 countries representing over 61.7
million of the 65.4 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on
behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as
ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human
rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and
development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,

[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is LWF's information service.
Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent
positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where
the dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the
material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]

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PO Box 2100, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
English Editor: Pauline Mumia
Tel: (41.22) 791.63.54
Fax: (41.22) 791.66.30

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