For more than 300 children living in the West Bank/Palestine, the opportunity to enjoy a reprieve from the mental, emotional, and physical effects of living in an area of conflict is their time at Hope Flowers School (HFS).
The K-6 school for boys and girls which is located in Bethlehem serves as both a refuge and a ticket towards a bright future. Many of its students are malnourished, come from refugee camps, orphanages and have experienced trauma from an early age. Many have documented learning disabilities. HFS provides its students with transportation to the school, a nutritious meal, and learning opportunities including programs tailored to special needs and healing.
Recognizing the importance of a place where children can feel safe, heal and learn in the heart of the regional conflict, U.S. Friends of Hope Flowers School was formed. The organization spreads awareness of the Palestinian school and connects with supporters. Various entities have come together in this effort: individuals, churches, peace-building organizations, etc.
At the core of Hope Flowers School’s curriculum is an emphasis on promoting peace and democratic values.
“Hope Flowers School doesn’t belong just to Palestinians. It doesn’t belong to Israelis. It belongs to humanity. We believe in taking care of each other. That’s why it should remain strong,” said Ibrahim Issa, Director of HFS.
The school and organization have attracted a number of international visitors and prominent supporters, including members of the US Congress who have advocated on the school’s behalf.
“I met Ibrahim Issa during a U.S. tour and was highly impressed by his positive, determined, and yet peaceful demeanor. HFS’s basic principles of non-violence and equity embedded into their curriculum attracted me.” Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas.
U.S. Friends of HFS Program Chairs Mary Lou Leiser Smith and Nancy Waasdorp attribute strong support for the school — including their own — to the school’s significant positive impact on individuals and on the future of the West Bank.
“Our on-site visits made it possible to experience firsthand the teachers’ dedication to nurturing children who otherwise live with daily trauma. We were impressed with the school’s mission to empower children to live and learn in an environment that promotes democratic values and respects their individual needs,” Leiser Smith and Waasdorp said. “Reaching beyond its walls to the families and the wider community, Hope Flowers School shares the techniques they’ve developed to address trauma, foster resilience, and meet the growing needs of learning-disabled children who, like their siblings, are living with conflict, poverty, and malnutrition in Palestine.”
Educating, Supporting, and Healing
Hope Flowers School — with the support of U.S. Friends of HFS — puts girls and boys living in the West Bank on track to heal and thrive by providing a daily meal, supportive care, and education that serves their unique needs.
“Children who experience significant trauma have trouble learning. Trauma-informed education is attentive to creating safe spaces and predictable, compassionate adults to help children let go of their natural defenses for a time so that they can learn. Education systems that take into account the lives of children living, from the day of their birth, in a low-grade war zone can help make school a place of refuge and a place to thrive. Hope Flowers School is just such a refuge, and its teachers help other education systems in Palestine identify ways to work with all the young people in their classrooms who are living with trauma. Education matters for life, and for the prospect and hope for peace. Hope Flowers lays the groundwork for a better future. That’s why we support it,” said Rev. Susan Langle and Dr. Sara Groesch, supporters of U.S. Friends of Hope Flowers School.
In addition to improving the lives of children in the West Bank, Hope Flowers School aims to enact large-scale change and raise a generation that will put an end to the conflict that has affected them since birth.
“We believe the non-violent, peace-building skills based on democratic values will provide children with a firm foundation for their adult lives, helping build a strong Palestinian society open to peaceful co-existence with its Israeli neighbors,” the U.S. Friends of Hope Flowers School states.
Overcoming Twin Challenges from COVID-19 and Political Pressures
Like everyone across the globe, Hope Flowers School was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the children benefiting from its services, however, the impact was especially painful. Following strict isolation mandates and safety measures, students were no longer able to attend HFS in person, and as a result, lost crucial daily care: a hot meal, a secure environment, access to education, connection to a community. Adding to challenges during this time was the termination of a multi-year USAID grant, which the U.S. government retracted in 2018. The grant would have significantly helped special needs children and teacher training. As Hope Flowers School does not receive financial support from the Palestinian government or religious institutions — it relies entirely on grant funding and donations from individuals — the loss of aid, especially during such a difficult time, was devastating.
Rallying from these obstacles, Hope Flowers School turned to remote online learning. Using platforms like Facebook and YouTube, teachers shared lesson plans and resource materials, and students stayed connected to their HFS community with photos and communication. Many dedicated teachers worked for half of what they had previously been paid in order to continue providing their students with the same level of attention and support during this financially challenging period. In response to the situation, U.S. Friends of Hope Flowers School increased its activity, ramping up fundraising campaigns, contacting Congressional officials, and working alongside International Friends of Hope Flowers School. Through these efforts, families were able to receive financial assistance which helped them purchase food and hygiene products during this difficult time.
Hope Flowers School and its community are still suffering from the combined effects of the pandemic and regional conflict. Donations to support the children and families of Hope Flowers School are always welcome. A semester scholarship for one child is $270 and an average monthly teacher’s salary is $505. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.
To help, please visit their donation page below.