Helen Keller School Update

Embrace's Helen Keller School stands next to a busy main road in the residential suburb of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. Buses and cars pass in a blur of noise and fumes, many attempting the eight-mile journey to Ramallah via the intimidating Qalandia checkpoint. But early in the morning, as a haze in the air gives way to the sun's heat, minibuses draw into the school’s driveway and the young passengers climb down, making plenty of cheerful noise of their own. Once within the safety of the school gates, the children are enveloped in a more peaceful atmosphere; one filled with the scent of fragrant plants and the whisper of olive leaves.
 
The Helen Keller School teaches 65 primary-age children. All have varying degrees of visual impairment and some have additional physical and learning disabilities. From its beginnings in the early 20th century as a home for blind girls, the school has become a modern centre of excellence in special education. It's a place where creativity can shine, independence can grow and every individual can use his or her gifts to their full potential.
 
At the very heart of the school's ethos is the belief that students can not only thrive academically but also become confident and productive members of society.  The school staff are passionate about giving the students confidence in their talents and the motivation to do their best.
 
Amina, 12, has retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary condition that has led to a gradual deterioration in her sight, although she is likely to retain some limited vision. Amina does well in her studies and enjoys being creative and active – she is a keen dancer and musician, and loves swimming. 
 
'If I wasn't a student at Helen Keller,' she says, 'my life would have been very different. I wouldn't have learned so much, or how to move around the house.'
 
Her words highlight a central part of the school's work – training the students in daily living skills. It's easy for sighted people to take for granted the ability to navigate the physical space around them, but the students of the Helen Keller School have usually lacked the opportunity to learn this at home. Amina and her friends receive training so they can confidently move about, prepare food and practise the day-to-day activities that they will need throughout their lives.
 
For decades, Embrace the Middle East has wholly owned the school and been involved in its management from more than 2,000 miles away. But our mission is to support the historic Christian communities of the Middle East  not to oversee them from afar. So over the years, we have been building the school's capacity to one day become independent. We feel that now is the time to start the process of a full transfer of the school to local Palestinian Christian leadership. Our long relationship with the school will continue in the form of strategic grants.
 
Amina will soon be moving on to a mainstream secondary school, where she is looking forward to making new friends and continuing her education alongside sighted students. The Helen Keller School staff will still be on hand for advice and support, and to work with her new teachers to help her integrate. Thanks to your donations and prayers, Amina and her classmates can turn society's expectations upside down and show that they have the confidence and self-reliance to achieve great things. As Helen Keller herself wrote: 'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.'
 
We have two videos featuring the school on our YouTube channel: one features Amina and the other features Sima, one of the kindergarten children.
 

This article is taken from the latest issue of our Embrace Magazine.