- Title: Bethlehemâ€™s other children, and the home that cares for them
- Date: 22nd December 2020
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (RECENT - DECEMBER 8, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ISKANDAR ANDON, 52-YEAR-OLD SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME, SAYING: "Around Christmas-time in 2019, we intervened through our work with a young lady who is less than 20 years old who reached us through the police and the social affairs, who are our partners at work. She was pregnant outside wedlock. There was a lot of fear because many of her family were not aware of it. We played our part, which is to be concerned with her safety, and to provide her with prenatal and postnatal care. We worked through 2019, and 2020 to provide support to improve the situation. It turned out that the young man was ready to acknowledge what had happened. We usually do not pass judgment on people, but rather try to find opportunities for salvation and to try and improve matters. An emergency situation, and a difficult one, turned into a positive situation. This young man took responsibility, they got married, registered the child, and today this was celebrated by having the child join her biological parents under one roof. Of course, there were challenges, they had to move [home] and live in another place in the Palestinian Territories, far away. This work requires a lot of support and guidance, but at least today we started with a solid foundation that we can build a solid house upon, that can provide this child with support and protection. We were very happy that this girl started with us in Christmas 2019, and ended with a celebration in 2020, and we hope that the rest of her life will be lived in stability and safety with this family. And this is similar to the story of the child that was born, in Christmas 2020 years ago, in a house with difficult conditions with a father and mother that didn't know where best to be, in hard conditions, and we later on saw how this progressed." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (RECENT - DECEMBER 9, 2020) (REUTERS) (MUTE) DRONE SHOT OF THE KEY OF THE CHILDREN'S HOME IN THE HAND OF A STATUE OF THE VIRGIN MARY DRONE FOOTAGE OF THE CRECHE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY 'CHILDREN'S HOME' BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (RECENT - DECEMBER 8, 2020) (REUTERS) CHRISTMAS LIGHTS DECORATING THE GARDEN OF THE CHILDREN'S HOME LIGHTS IN THE FORM OF A FAMILY OF DEER LIGHTS IN THE FORM OF A SMALL DEER
- Embargoed: 5th January 2021 09:06
- Keywords: Bethlehem COVID-19 Catholics Christianity Christmas CrÃ¨che Palestinians West Bank baby Jesus carers children children's home coronavirus drone nuns orphans
- Location: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK
- City: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Middle East,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA005DA3AERR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Walk out of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, across Manger Square and along Star Street and you come to a part of town where few pilgrims venture.
Behind a discreet plaque saying 'CrÃ¨che' is a children's home - the only one that many illegitimate and abandoned children brought up there have ever known.
Run by Catholic nuns from the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and Palestinian staff, it is a refuge for around 50 children, including those born out of wedlock, at risk of violence and even rescued from garbage bins.
There are children's refuges all over the world, all dealing with similar issues.
But the CrÃ¨che bears the emotional weight of being in the traditional birthplace of Jesus, where the focus of the Christian world turns once a year to a story from Bethlehem that celebrates birth, family and hope.
Although a Christian institution, the children are raised as Muslim according to local law, unless the staff know the religion of the family that gave them up.
In 95% of cases Iskandar Andon, the social worker who oversees the children's welfare, gets advance warning of a child conceived out of wedlock or from an incestuous relationship, but sometimes the first he knows is when he gets a call from the police that a baby has been found abandoned.
"For me as a social worker that lives with these children on a daily basis, I have the honour to be responsible for them, or to be part of their lives," Andon, 52, told Reuters.
But he does not underplay the emotional difficulties. Relatives may be violent, or drug addicts, or the children and mothers at risk from honour killings.
"It involves an ethical and moral responsibility, a professional responsibility," he said.
Founded at the turn of the 19th century, the institution's echoing halls are a home from birth until the age of five.
But the CrÃ¨che is short of money - especially this year - amid donor fatigue and the coronavirus which struck Bethlehem first in the Palestinian Territories, just before Easter.
The pandemic cut the number of visitors who could bring aid or cheer to the children, and forced Bethlehem into lockdown that devastated its tourist-reliant economy.
The CrÃ¨che's quiet charitable work has won it respect and recognition, however, including a visit in January by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who called it an "utter manifestation of humanity."
Some of the staff grew up in the home and, knowing the hardships the children will face in later life, came back to help others like them.
"I worked in various jobs, but in the end I decided to work in this institute for two reasons. To have a job and to build relationships, because I understand the nature of the kids," said Mariam Ayyesh, a 39-year-old teacher who now works alongside the nanny who raised her.
Ayyesh has never met her parents and has no interest in finding them or knowing who they are.
"When you grow up, at school graduations, and at university graduations, you see everyone around you, it is a bit difficult ... But in the end, if the child gets an education, and if he was brought up well, these things all help," she said.
Most years volunteers dress up as Santa Claus to bring some festive cheer, and teddy bears are piled up around the Christmas tree. But this year there are fewer decorations and fewer visitors.
However, there was at least one happy ending, a few days before Christmas.
One of the children who was born out of wedlock is starting a new life after her parents married and set up home together - albeit far from their own home town to avoid scrutiny.
"At least today we started on a solid foundation that we can build a solid house upon, that can provide this child with support and protection," Andon told Reuters, as he sat in the garden with models of reindeer and Santa Claus around him.
"We were very happy that this girl started with us," he said. "And this is similar to the story of the child that was born, (at) Christmas 2020 years ago, in a house with difficult conditions with a father and mother that didn't know where best to be, under hard conditions. And we saw later how this turned out."
(Production: Nuha Sharaf, Stephen Farrell, Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh, Mohammad abu Ganeyeh, Yosri al Jamal)
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