NOTE: This is a guest post by Mohammed Abu Rajab, ANERA Area Director, Hebron
I have worked for eight years in ANERA’s Hebron office as an engineer and area manager for the southern West Bank. My work often brings me to Bethlehem, a sacred and special place to many, but one that faces formidable challenges. Families are struggling. The Separation Wall has cut off the city from the surrounding areas. Tourism is down. The economy is failing and those who can afford it move away, which only makes matters worse.
As a sign of just how bad things have become, the city struggled to light its Christmas tree this year due to lack of funds.
Bethlehem also suffers from terrible water shortages – probably the worst in the Palestinian Territories, along with Hebron. In Bethlehem, the average person has access to 30-40 liters per day, far less than the World Health Organization’s standard of 150 liters per capita per day necessary for a healthy life.
Still, I am inspired constantly by the people I have come to know through my work in Bethlehem. They are not suffering because they do not have the capacity to succeed, but because of a political situation that is beyond their control. I ask myself every day how ANERA can help them with the things we CAN control in order to make their lives better.
It is gratifying to be able to point to years of ANERA’s accomplishments: the multitude of schools that we have renovated or built; the recent renovations and upgrades to the Beit Jala Hospital, which 170,000 people rely on for medical care; the hundreds of families in the Dar Salah area who are now connected to a network that brings water to their homes. Many of the projects have been funded by Grants from the US Agency for International Development.
But, there is much more that can be done with private donations. I see many dilapidated schools that need vital upgrades to their facilities or equipment like computers. There is an urgent need for water collection cisterns so more families can collect precious water during the rainy season. There is also unused land around the city that could be converted to home gardens, providing families with food and a supplement to their income.
Recently, I visited a school where the students have been studying in dungeon-like conditions in a basement. ANERA is building an additional eight classrooms so those students can enjoy naturally lit classrooms and fresh air. This is a school where Christian and Muslim children study and play together every day. These children are a model for us all and they deserve every opportunity for a bright future.
ABOUT ANERA: For more than 40 years, ANERA has been a leading provider of development, health, education and employment programs to Palestinian communities and impoverished families throughout the Middle East. In FY 2009, the relief and development agency delivered more than $50 million of programs to the people of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan.
Photo courtesy of ANERA