Paul Calvert spoke with Sari Zeidan from the Shepherd Society, about their medical and food programmes and family sponsorship.
Paul: What is the Shepherd Society?
Sari: It is the social department of Bethlehem Bible College. We help the people in Bethlehem; the needy people and the poor people in Bethlehem in general.
Paul: When were you started and why were you started?
Sari: They started in 1996 when the people were getting in need a lot because of the political situation. The college decided to help the poor people at that time by giving them food, blankets, or anything they need in general. Because of the political situation they were not able to work a lot.
After that they continued to help. Then they decided to open a whole section related to social issues and social needs, like medical and food needs.
Paul: Is it just the people of Bethlehem that you help?
Sari: Yes, because it is hard to extend to other places. We serve Bethlehem area not Bethlehem city, so that includes Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and the villages around these cities.
Paul: Bethlehem is built on tourism, so if there is a problem in the political situation, does that affect people's jobs here?
Sari: A lot, yes.
We always say that approximately 37% of the Bethlehemites are not able to work. I think it is the highest number of people who don't work are in Bethlehem. About 40% to 45% of the people who work, they work in the tourism section.
If anything happened today, tomorrow everything will stop, because if the political situation is bad the people will leave, the foreigners will leave. The people who decided to come to Bethlehem will cancel their vacation. Even at Christmas two years ago, all the travellers cancelled their travels and all the foreigners left the city. 2016 was so bad for the people here who work in the tourism section.
Paul: Is there a lot of poverty in Bethlehem?
Sari: Yes. We think that people here in Bethlehem are not in need, but if you go deep and if you visit them and their houses and you break the ice between you and them, then you see that they are in need. But they are ashamed at the same time to say that we are in need, because this is the culture, this is what society teaches us, to be strong all the time and not to say that we need things.
Paul: What sort of programmes do you run here?