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 became the victims of the Israeli occupation and the political situation. Many children were killed in the streets and even in their own houses 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, in her capacity working 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 reasons 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 the children’s physical, artistic and social potentials.
These conditions caused a group of professionals in collaboration with BASR to establish Ghirass Cultural Center as a way of providing the children of Bethlehem with the opportunity to learn and play in a safe environment.
The Center began with a small group of children from Bethlehem and its 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.
The Center’s staff insisted on continuing this project, even through the worst conditions outside. Challenging the bad political circumstances, the Center became somewhere that children could rely on to find safety and space to play and develop into young Palestinian adults.