Paul Calvert talks with Najwa Sahhar-Sayegh from Jeel Al Amal, a school and children's home, for the protection and care of needy and orphan children throughout Palestine.

Najwa Sahhar
Najwa Sahhar

Paul: What is Jeel Al Amal?

Najwa: Jeel Al Amal means generation of hope. My parents founded a school and a children's home, so when my parents started the home in 1972, they called it generation of hope as a symbol of hope at a time when there was no hope what so ever in our country. Hope in an educated future generation, who will build the Palestinian society.

The school was started in 1972 in Bethany, it's a small village near Jerusalem and now it is separated by the wall that was built in the year 2000.

Paul: Was there a need at the time for this school?

Najwa: Yes, they targeted the children who were directly affected by the bad political and economic situation in our country after the war. They targeted the children who were actually roaming the streets, with no future and no family.

Paul: So what is the vision and the mission of the school?

Najwa: Jeel Al Amal, generation of hope, is a social institution for the protection and care of needy and orphan children in the whole of Palestine. In the boarding section we have children coming from very poor backgrounds, remote villages in the West Bank from Ramallah, Bethlehem and all over. We have orphans, children coming out of wedlock who do not have families at all, so it's basically for children who are abandoned and abused.

Paul: How many boys do you have in the home?

Najwa: Well during the school year we have 75 and the number does not stop there, because we also receive during the summer and throughout the school year.

Paul: Do you have to give some of these boys counselling when they come into the home because of the situation they have been through?

Najwa: Sure they need counselling, they need our patience, they need to see that here they are cared for and they are loved. It takes a huge effort from the specialists, from the consultants, from the house mothers, supervisors and from all of us to try and help the children; especially knowing that they come from very difficult backgrounds. Some are abused, some are badly beaten, some have been on the streets for a couple of years, and they have skipped school so they need counselling. We don't have a magic wand in our hands, but it takes huge efforts and we see that the children get by in a couple of months, even school things really change them.

Paul: Are there both Muslims and Christians together here?

Najwa: Jeel Al Amal is for children from all over Palestine. Here Palestine Christians and Muslims are together so we do not differentiate. My mother, the founder of the home, Alice Sahhar, always used to say whenever she was asked this same question, "In what language does a child cry?", because she never looked at a child and thought about where they come from, ethnic background or religion. She wanted to help as long as the child is needy, so it didn't matter to her and we continue doing the same today.

Paul: Have the boys in the home become family?