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Source: International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)
1 October 2004

New IOCC project to improve West Bank schools

Jerusalem (IOCC) – A new project by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in the West Bank will expand educational opportunities for thousands of underprivileged Palestinian young people.

The $3 million project, funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will result in the construction or renovation of school classrooms, bathrooms, libraries, labs, playgrounds and other youth facilities in 24 villages in the Ramallah region.

IOCC, a humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, is responding to the challenge of a growing student population (3.9 percent annual growth rate) combined with a widespread shortage of classroom space in the West Bank.

"Many rural areas do not have any schools or enough classrooms, and children are compelled to go to neighboring villages," said Nora Kort, head of IOCC-Jerusalem. "This presents great challenges and obstacles, especially for girls: Tradition does not allow them to travel outside their own villages in search of education."

In addition to educational concerns, the IOCC-USAID project will address problems of unemployment in the West Bank. With unemployment at over 60 percent, the project will create short-term, labor-intensive jobs in the construction trades, Ms. Kort said.

"Unemployment affects two-thirds of the adult Palestinian population," she said, "because the people's freedom of movement is severely restricted by military closures and checkpoints."

For 30 months, IOCC will employ more than 2,000 people to do the construction and renovation work. The result will be an improved educational infrastructure network serving more than 26,000 children ages 5-19, Ms. Kort said.

The new project builds on IOCC's success over the past two years in training women, creating jobs, renovating public buildings (including schools) and revitalizing agriculture in rural areas of the West Bank. IOCC implemented that project, also funded by USAID, by partnering with village leadership and organizing the participating villages into "clusters."

Ms. Kort said IOCC will use the same system with the new initiative. Clusters of 13 villages near the town of Ni'lin and 11 villages near the town of Beit Liqya will be involved, potentially benefiting a population of more than 68,000 residents.

"Children who live in rural areas of the West Bank are suffering from a lack of safe educational and recreational facilities," said IOCC Director of Operations Samir Ishak. "Their parents suffer from a lack of employment. This project addresses both concerns – the short-term and the long-term."

IOCC's partners in the project include USAID, local village councils, and the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

IOCC has been active in the Middle East since 1997, when it began humanitarian programs in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Founded in 1992, IOCC is the official humanitarian agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).

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