SOS Children's Villages started working in Bethlehem in 1968. The people of the area faced, and continue to face, many difficulties due to the political, social and economic situation. Our organisation is supporting families so that children can grow up in loving homes with their parents and siblings.
What we do in Bethlehem
SOS Children's Villages works closely with local agencies to set up common strategies around key issues. Our organisation has been running a family strengthening programme which enables children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to stay with their families. In some cases, we provide supplies such as food or fuel; other families have more complex needs, for example micro projects are provided for single parents so that they can set up a business.
We also aim to develop the community so that families can support each other. When children can no longer live with their families, they can find a loving home in one of the 14 SOS families, where up to 126 children can be cared for by the SOS mothers.
Young children from the SOS families and from the neighbouring areas can go to the SOS Kindergarten. Parents welcome the existence of quality day-care, where they know their children will be looked after by professionals while they go to work or receive training. Primary-school-aged children from the area can attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, which provides education to up to 432 pupils; most of the children at the school come from local families.
As the children grow older, they can move to our youth programme. At present, up to 40 young people can live in these special houses while they receive further training or education. With the support of qualified professionals, the young people are encouraged to make their own decisions and shoulder responsibilities.
Children facing an uncertain future
SOS Children's Village Bethlehem is situated near the historical Shepherd's Field in the West Bank. In addition to the political instability and violence, the area suffers from a high unemployment rate (17 per cent), and around 46 per cent of the population lives under the nationally-established poverty line.
The children of Bethlehem have been directly affected by the political instability, which has had a harmful effect on their psychological well-being. Many children have seen their friends or family-members killed or injured. They have few places where, and opportunities when, they can play freely. The trends in school enrolment rates are worrying - around 22 per cent of young adults were not enrolled in secondary education (2011 est.). The main reasons are early marriage, poor educational achievement and the fact that families need children to go out to work to earn extra income.
Support to families and children in the community
The distressing living conditions in the area around Bethlehem make the work of SOS Children's Villages particularly important. The shortage of medical care led to the creation of the permanent and mobile health centres which serve the community. Likewise, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School was opened in 1997 to meet the educational needs of children in the area. The organisation aims to improve the lives of those in the local community, and tries to ensure that the needs of families are met so that the children do not lose parental care.