Lutheran Schools Provide Holistic Education in an Interfaith Context

RAMALLAH, West Bank/GENEVA 4 October 2012 (LWI) – Michael Abu Ghazaleh is one proud principal. “The School of Hope provides top-quality education to all students, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or ability to pay tuition fees,” he says of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah, one of the top five in the West Bank. The majority of the students at the school are Muslims, an indication that Christian schools are an important part of the educational system in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But the school is not all about studies and results. Georgette is 17 years old and a year away from graduation. “I love this school, it’s my second home,” she says smiling. Georgette is a member of the school’s Al-Raja Folkloric Dance Troupe, of which about 15 students performed two dances when a delegation from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) visited the school on the 29 September.

The dance style in Arabic is Dabke, meaning “stomp,” and is probably the most accurate way to describe the flying dance. Almost 50 high school students come together after class to practice the traditional dance and their passionate performance reveals their love for the dance. Seventeen-year-old Ahmad says the group’s name Al-Raja, which means hope in Arabic, is more than a name. “We are a strong people, and giving up hope is giving up living,” says Ahmad, who wants to go to Germany to study. “But I will always come back to live here,” he adds.

Expanding Facilities and Quality Education

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope, one of the six congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), was founded in the mid 1950s as Palestinian refugees fled to the Ramallah area after the war. The School of Hope began in 1965 as a kindergarten with ten students and two teachers, and graduated its first class of three students in 1979. The school has since been serving the greater Ramallah area and continues to grow. It is currently serving more than 450 students—comprising 20 percent Christians and 80 percent Muslims.

And the constant expansion has led the European Union (EU) to fund construction of a 4,000 square meter building that will accommodate around 500 students, who are now located in the old campus. The new school campus is expected to be ready in 2013 when it will be handed over to the church. The construction of the new campus comes as a result of the EU’s continuous support to the Palestinian education sector not only by increasing the physical capacity of school buildings but also by developing the quality of education in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestinian Prime Minister Meets with Lutheran Leaders

Christians are a minority in Ramallah, but the Christian community is responsible for almost 30 percent of the educational system in the West Bank. The school “is a model in the community of cooperation and tolerance among its diverse students,” principal Ghazaleh says. The school offers extra curriculum activities including an English club, sports teams, scout troops, an information and computer technology unit, and the renowned dance group that performs both locally and abroad.

“As Palestinian Christians we have always considered ourselves to be an integral part of the fabric of our society, and that means we have a role to play in education and in societal issues in our country,” said ELCJHL Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, also LWF President.

Younan said the mission of the ELCJHL schools was to prepare young Palestinian women and men to build their state. “We teach our students to respect human rights—especially women’s rights—to respect freedom of religion and to dialogue with other religions. We emphasize peace education in our schools, and the right for each and every person to live in dignity,” added the ELCJHL bishop who had previously served as pastor of the Ramallah congregation.

The importance of Christian education was also a subject when the LWF delegation met with the Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Dr Salam Fayyad. The premier noted that the role of Palestinian Christians in Palestinian society was indispensable, and urged encouragement for their efforts.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fayyad said the aim of the Palestinian Authority is to end the Occupation by peaceful means, with a viable two-state solution that recognizes East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State. He expressed concern about pressure on the presence of Christians and their diminishing population in the region.

During the meeting with the premier, LWF General Secretary Martin Junge reiterated the crucial role the Christian communities play in the region through their institutions.

“The importance of the Lutheran schools in the Palestinian context became evident again in the conversation with the Palestinian Prime Minister,” Junge said after the meeting. “I was pleased that the Prime Minister brought up the issue and the importance of the Christian presence among the Palestinians, as a matter of identity for the Palestinian people,” he added.

This story by Thomas Ekelund was published on the Lutheran World Federation web site. Photo: © LWF/Thomas Ekelund

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