History & Background

Being a child in Palestine carries with it a complex and difficult history that is only seen by the rest of the world through the means of shocking media reports and pictures. In recent decades children have become the victims of the Israeli occupation and the political situation. Many children have been  killed in the streets and even in their own homes and schools. These violent events have left both psychological and physical scars on the children.
The idea of Ghirass Cultural Center in Bethlehem originated in 1990 with one of Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation’s (BASR) employees, Ms Ibtisam Ilzghayyer, who was working as a home visitor for Community Based Rehabilitation, and with a Norwegian social worker, Ms Ingunn Tjore, who was also in the same team. Ms Ibtisam, working in her capacity at grass roots level, saw a great need for setting up a safe place for children.

One reason for this vision was the worsening political situation under the Israeli occupation. Curfews, closure of schools, numerous daily arrests, humiliation and killing, had all affected children badly, littering the streets where they played with dangerous objects and exposing them to possible confrontation with soldiers and life-threatening situations.

The other reason for opening the Center was to provide a counterbalance to the Palestinian school curriculum, which focuses mainly on the academic side of a child’s education. So there was a strong need for a project to support and complement the academic school education with creative activities to develop, maximize and fulfill children’s physical, artistic and social potential.

These conditions inspired a group of professionals in collaboration with BASR to establish the Ghirass Cultural Center as a way of providing children of Bethlehem with the opportunity to learn and play in a safe environment.

The building used for the Center wasn’t in a good state at the beginning. For this reason, it began with a small group of children from Bethlehem and surrounding villages and refugee camps, with an age range from 4-16 years. Since that time the Center has grown and developed in all directions.

Staff working at the Center have always insisted on continuing with all projects, regardless of how bad the situation might be outside, through the worst conditions. Challenging the bad political circumstances, the Center became somewhere that children could rely on to find safety and space to learn, play and develop into young Palestinian adults.

Our philosophy of child-focused work means we decided to develop our activities for both short and long term projects. Over time, some changes have taken place, for example we added new sections including Art, handicrafts and a computer lab. The library also acquired some new books that are suitable for all ages.

In 1998 the center started to carry out some much-needed building maintenance. This was financially supported by the FO institute.

In 2000 we renewed the remedial teaching section.

In 2002 we acquired sufficient funds to completely repair the upper floors of the building, creating a large hall with LCD equipment, communication systems and all necessary technical support.

In 2008 the psychosocial section was established alongside with other sections.

In 2009 we renewed several sections in the center, such as, art room, kitchen, computer lab and the garden.

In 2010 the GIZ institute supported the center in the outreach program. This targets impoverished communities that are hard to reach because of the apartheid wall. Residents in these outlying villages are heavily restricted in their freedom of movement.

At the beginning of 2016, 500 teachers took part in the learning disabilities course and how to work with children in the field. These teachers were from different schools and kindergartens and also from private and governmental schools.

4 wooden sunshades were added in the outside garden. Also, more trees and flowers were planted.

Since the year 1998 the center works on the cultural exchange with many friends such as Bethlehem Link and Leicester Friends of Bethlehem in Britain. There are also many opportunities for the dabka band to perform in many different settings, including schools, both locally and abroad.

In 2014 Ghirass became a member of SAWA SAWA institute that aims to cooperate and make contact with with other institutions in Balata camp, Shofat camp and Silwan. One of its achievements is winning the cup for the girls’ football team.

In 2015 it also became a member of the Alwiam society that teaches Ikedo to children in the center.

In 2015 Ghirass was able to break the occupation’s checkpoints and enable 20 children from Gaza to enter the West Bank for a week. We all were proud of and emotional about this visit.

In 2015 the choir group was established through the Amwaj Institute that included some professional trainees from different countries such as France, Italy and Scotland.

We as the Ghirass Family have reached the stage of having this good reputation. This is obvious from the write-ups about our history but things have never been easy and we have faced many hard challenges. We have developed a clear mission and vision to work with any child or young person, no matter their race or religion or location. We are here for children and we will always be here for them.

After all these years we can say that we have strong relationships with local institutions and the international institutions which have supported us and which share and believe in our mission and vision.

In 2015 we reached the total of 5000 children in the center and 4000 children in the outreach program and the reading campaign “born to read”.

 

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Welcome to Ghirass cultural center