CNT returns to Palestine April 2019

We wondered what we would find in the West Bank when we returned three years after our last visit.  Our previous contact, Fr Faysal Hijazeen, died very suddenly in 2016.  His successor, Fr Iyad Twal, the Education Director in Palestine and Israel for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (LPJ), was previously at Bethlehem University.  He has developed a five-year programme in which every member of the educational system will receive training.  CNT is providing the training for the teachers of English.

The teachers and the tutors on the steps of Birzeit Church, built by the Christian and Muslim community

We flew to Tel Aviv on March 31st with our loyal team of specialist language tutors: Richenda Askew, Jackie Halsall and Jonny Kowal together with David Pearce, a Drama specialist, for a week of training.  We were based in the parish of Birzeit, a twenty-minute journey from Ramallah by school bus.  The forty-one teachers attending the course came from across the West Bank, often travelling long distances each day.  These teachers are academically qualified and possess a sound knowledge of English but have received little teacher training before starting their careers.   Training for LPJ teachers is not provided by the state and we, as English, are uniquely qualified to help them to improve their skills in English, the global language.  Fluency in English is much prized.

Rawan Mussallam, the Principal at Birzeit, had cared for us so well in 2014 and welcomed us again with open arms. The Parish Priest, Fr Louis Hazboun, kindly let us use his parish hall.  A busy week of workshops and seminars followed.  Delicious communal Palestinian Lenten lunches kept us nourished.  Extensive planning ensured that differing levels of training were delivered to three different groups. 

The Advanced Group with the four tutors and Margaret

We were delighted to meet old friends, those teachers who had received some training between 2013 and 2016, and to discover how they had progressed.  We are pleased that some are acting as trainers for others and are cascading best practice.  We encouraged these eleven teachers to act as Trainers.  In order to do so, they received advanced training on strategies for listening, reading, writing, critical thinking, reflection and further activities to encourage English fluency and comprehension. 

Birzeit Church and School
Richenda leading an intensive workshop, observed byRawan Mussallam, Principal of Birzeit School, Abeer Hanna, LPJ Executive Director and Mirna Fleifel, LPJ Academic Curriculum Co-ordinator

A further group of fourteen new enthusiastic teachers of English were, through lively workshops, introduced to student-centred teaching techniques, classroom layout dynamics, receptive skills, error correction and how to ‘humanise’ the course book.  On their final day, they all had to present a three-minute micro-teach or lesson, demonstrating their adoption of some of these new strategies.  This was an impressive and engaging morning including activities ranging from instructions on how to make paper-boats, mixing the ingredients for waffles (baked later), planting aloe vera and making healthy food choices to taking accurate blood pressure measurements.  This was active learning, gaining consensus with eager participation and collaboration.

Hadeel points out the positives in examination (Tawjihi) preparation
Proud of their certificates Jackie gaining consensus

As a new initiative, both of these two groups had a Drama session with David to encourage and inspire a fluency in English through Drama.  These sessions were remarkably successful as the Palestinians are naturally very musical.  Great hilarity and energetic movement ensued.  Their classrooms will never be the same! 

The third group, a very fortunate group of sixteen teachers, enjoyed three days of Drama with David, our latest team recruit.  They were enthused and inspired.  I am sure that Drama will be used in their classrooms!

Afifeh assumes a dramatic pose
Maysoon videos David working with her students in Jifna

The teachers were delighted and reassured to hear that they were remembered, that people in the UK prayed and cared for them.  They are now aware and grateful that two hundred and thirty kind CNT donors, The Sir Harold Hood Foundation, the Lenten collections from the Diocese of East Anglia and donations from my parishes of Ss Philip and James and Holy Cross in Bedford are generously assisting them.  This gives hope, the greatest of gifts.

We are pleased that Mirna Fleifel, who had attended several of our English Project Training Sessions, has been appointed the Academic Curriculum Co-ordinator.  We are proud and very pleased that she has been given this role.  Mrs Abeer Hanna, a very experienced and popular Principal from Nablus, heads the Education Team.  It is likely that another of our trainees will be appointed English Supervisor.  Not surprisingly, we have been asked to return again.  We feel this training project fulfils our mission and our focus.  Training teachers by providing them with new skills is the best way of helping the children of the Holy Land.

Christian and Muslim working together, mutual respect and friendship
Jonny’s workshop

Palestine has never looked so beautiful as the rain had been abundant, with lush green pastures grazed by goats and sheep.  Wildflowers and poppies dotted the landscape. Ramallah had grown and there were building projects everywhere.  We could see from our hotel the recently renovated park, with specimen tress and a graceful fountain, in front of Ramallah City Hall.  We walked around the city and never felt threatened.  This was in sharp contrast to the underlying tension of life under occupation in the West Bank.  We arrived at the weekend of the first anniversary of the Gazan protests.  On Wednesday, two innocent Palestinian young men were injured at a roadblock, one fatally. The teachers travelling from Nablus were very anxious about reaching their homes that night.  They did endure several searches on their journey, returning the following day, saying philosophically that ‘this is our life’.  As we left, the Israeli elections were due to be held, with the threatened annexation of the Israeli settlements in Palestine into the State of Israel (considered illegal under international law) making the possibility of a two-state solution seem more distant than ever.

CNT has also been funding further Teacher Training Projects in Jordan.  Last November, we trained 44 teachers whose progress we are following on WhatsApp forums.  The skills they are acquiring are transferable to other curriculum areas.  Educational change is happening.  We were joined by Nadia, the Principal of an LPJ School running afternoon sessions for Iraqi refugees.  This is a part of the huge and generous humanitarian help that the LPJ schools and parishes throughout Jordan provide for the massive influx of often destitute Iraqi refugees.  Education gives hope. 

I give my thanks to the LPJ Education Department for their assistance, their remarkable teachers, our loyal and inspirational tutors, our generous donors and my husband Bernard for his invaluable help. 

Please remember our suffering fellow Christian in your prayers.  Shukran, Thank you.

Margaret Waddingham, Chairman of CNT

April 2019 Registered charity no. 289084