- Title: Bethlehemâ€™s other children, and the home that cares for them
- Date: 22nd December 2020
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - JANUARY 18, 2019) (REUTERS) ***WARNING: CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY*** PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH ARRIVING AT THE CRECHE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY CHILDREN'S HOME SHTAYYEH MEETING AND GREETING THE STAFF AT THE CRECHE SHTAYYEH AND MAYOR OF BETHLEHEM ANTON SALMAN, BETHLEHEM GOVERNOR KAMEL HAMEID TALKING TO STAFF OF CRECHE SHTAYYEH GIVING A TODDLER A PRESENT (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, SAYING: "In this long-established institute that is 150 years old, which nurtures children, children that have lived through, are living through and were born in exceptional circumstances, unnatural ones, what this institute does, is basically a sight of utter manifestation of humanity." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 3, 2020) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CHILD FORMING SHAPES WITH PLAY-DOH BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - MAY 11, 2020) (REUTERS) WOMAN USING HAND SANITIZER BOTTLE HUNG IN CORRIDOR BEIT JALA, WEST BANK (FILE - MAY 15, 2020) (REUTERS) NUN / STAFF MEMBER OF THE CRECHE WEARING GLOVES AND FACE MASK VARIOUS OF NUNS AND AID WORKER , LINDA SALEEM, 40-YEAR-OLD FOUNDER OF A CHARITY ORGANIZATION 'SHADI AND I', IN MASKS AND GLOVES (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) 40 YEAR OLD LINDA SALEEM, FOUNDER OF CHARITY ORGANIZATION 'SHADI AND I', SAYING: "The tag-line of our organization is 'bridges for children that have been oppressed by life'. We are trying to build this bridge, whether through emotions, conversations, thoughts, all these things, and these are the things we are missing out on in this period." VEHICLE FILLED WITH FOOD AND SUPPLIES THE NUNS/ STAFF MEMBERS OF THE CRECHE AND VOLUNTEERS UNLOADING SUPPLIES FROM ONE CAR TO ANOTHER BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 19, 2020) (REUTERS) BABY LYING DOWN ON BACK ON A BABY MAT BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - MAY 11, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ISKANDAR ANDON, 52-YEAR-OLD SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME, TALKING ABOUT THE PANDEMIC, SAYING: "From 5th of March until today many of the children that have families, and are in contact with them, or some relatives like a grandfather, a mother a father etc,. All the visits were stopped completely until this moment in which we are having this interview. This was very difficult for the families, as well as the children, it was very difficult for them to be trapped, the children are used to going out more, to having a lot of activities, lots of visits, even outside the CrÃ¨che." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 3, 2020) (REUTERS) CHILD PLAYING WITH ALPHABET PUZZLE BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - MAY 11, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ISKANDAR ANDON, 52-YEAR-OLD SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME, TALKING ABOUT THE PANDEMIC, SAYING: "Almost 7 children had the chance to leave the CrÃ¨che, to better homes, individual homes, and to practice their right of living in a normal family life like other children. until this day, this all was halted." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - JANUARY 9, 2020) (REUTERS) PAINTING ON WALL OF CHILDREN'S HOME MAIN CORRIDOR SHOWING SNAKE APPROACHING CHILD SITTING ON A WALL BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - JANUARY 9, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ISKANDAR ANDON, 52-YEAR-OLD SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME, SAYING: "If we deal with the CrÃ¨che as a normal house, and I am the father - the social worker - the only male figure in this institute, and the CrÃ¨che as the mother, when a new child arrives, no matter where from, if he was found in the garbage, or the side of the road, or if he was born here, we deal with this as if it is the joy of a new birth, and when he leaves us, it's the sadness of loss that we feel, we lose him." ANDON NODDING (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ISKANDAR ANDON, 52-YEAR-OLD SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME, SAYING: "Of course, the children that have grown up without a mother and father, due to being illegitimate children or of unknown origins, and haven't had the chance to live in normal homes with stepmothers or fathers, some of them have returned to work with us, surely their lives are not very stable since we live within a community in which the extended family serves as the family. This is part of our identities, this is part of our social protection system. So they remain at risk the whole time, their lives are not stable even if they achieve goals that seem normal but deep inside they are like huge trees without roots, if the wind blows they can fall." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 18, 2020) (REUTERS) 39-YEAR-OLD TEACHER, MARIAM AYYESH - WHO USED TO BE A CHILD IN THE SCHOOL - AND CHILDREN'S HOME NANNY, SIHAM AL-SHOOLI, WHO RAISED HER, TALKING BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 6, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) 39-YEAR-OLD TEACHER, MARIAM AYYESH SAYING: "Every once in a while I used to come and volunteer, that was before I graduated, but after I graduated, I wanted to look for a job. Of course 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 a relationship because I understand the nature of the kids, and as a place it is not foreign to me. Perhaps I do not remember my childhood in the place, but my relationship with the place was very strong, so I liked the idea of working in this place." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 18, 2020) (REUTERS) MARIAM AYYESH AND SIHAM AL-SHOOLI TALKING IN THE GARDEN (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) NANNY IN THE CHILDREN'S HOUSE, SIHAM AL-SHOOLI, SAYING: "I asked her, Mariam do you remember, when you were here, we used to love you and visit you, she started a bit to remember, and finally remembered." MARIAM AYYESH AND SIHAM AL-SHOOLI TALKING AND WALKING IN THE GARDEN BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 6, 2020) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) 39-YEAR-OLD TEACHER, MARIAM AYYESH SAYING: "During school years, the children see parents with other children, and ask why aren't they like them. Of course, life goes on and makes them forget about it, but the main thing is that no one can take the place of certain people, a brother cannot replace a sister, a father cannot replace a father, so what do you think it is like when it comes to a whole family? Maybe the institute provide the financial care, but it cannot provide the psychological aspect that is needed. And that is a problem. Especially when you grow up, at school graduations, and at university graduations, you see everyone around you, it is a bit difficult. Also when finding work, one is faced with more than one problem, an uncountable number of problems. But in the end, if the child gets an education, and if he was brought up well, these things all help. Because the institute prepares them, through courses, workshops and summer centres they attend." BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (FILE - AUGUST 19, 2020) (REUTERS) STAFF MEMBER EXITING THE INFANTS WARD AT THE CHILDREN'S HOME BABY LYING ON A PLAY MAT ON THE GROUND
- 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: LVA004DA3AERR
- 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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