This article was provided by World ORT. The original version of this story can be seen here.
Three schools in World ORT’s Kadima Mada (Science Journey) program have been temporarily closed in the face of continued Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.
The security measure has undoubtedly saved lives – a long-range Grad missile, its warhead packed with ball bearings to inflict greater harm, pierced the concrete roof of a Grade 9 classroom at the Makif Aleph High School in central Be’er Sheva last week but the school was empty and no-one was injured. Normally, the classroom seats nearly 40 children.
The rocket attack on Be’er Sheva, some 40 kilometers from Gaza, was a shocking new development showing the greater offensive capability of Hamas. The other schools closed – Sha’ar HaNegev and Hof Ashkelon – are situated close to the border and have had to endure such attacks for eight years.
Staff and students at the affected schools are struggling to continue coursework via the Internet. At Sha’ar HaNegev, laptops and Interactive White Boards provided by World ORT as part of its Kadima Mada upgrading, are helping staff to continue teaching housebound children.
But it is not only the academic life of the Kadima Mada schools that has been disrupted by terrorism. In Be’er Sheva, World ORT’s SMILE project, in which Makif Aleph students provide friendship and academic support to bedridden children at the Soroka University Medical Centre, is also a casualty.
“Fortunately the school was closed after a missile hit a kindergarten in town the night before,” said Smadar Sharvit, the World ORT Innovation Co-ordinator at Makif Aleph. “We are building study programmes that can be accessed at the school website and providing other distance learning. But the student council wanted very much to organise social activities and to continue visiting the sick children at Soroka. Unfortunately we can’t let them; it’s just not safe to have them congregate anywhere in town. Even for our school management meeting we needed permission from the authorities because there were more than 20 of us attending. The weekend was fairly quiet but more rockets have been falling this week; we thought things were getting better but I guess that sometimes things have to get worse before getting better.”
However, the laptops which World ORT provided the Educational Centre in the hospital’s children’s ward as part of the SMILE project are being used by Esther Friedman and her teaching staff to help keep the young patients amused – and so keep their minds off what may happen at any moment.
Ms Friedman said: “When the alert sounds, children who are mobile are ushered by our staff into the central corridor of the paediatric wing which is serving as an official 'protected area'. Children who are bed-ridden are also wheeled out into the corridor. Obviously, additional emergency staff and volunteers have been recruited and are on-hand to help. In fact, we have even more children to look after because the on-duty hospital staff bring their children to work for safe-keeping. There are now 300 children in the hospital at any one time, and we at the educational centre are responsible for an extra 50 healthy children in addition to the 100 sick children normally in our care."
Meanwhile, Ms Sharvit said that Makif Aleph staff were keeping in daily contact with their pupils by telephone and email and visiting the homes of those who have not been responding.
“Some of the kids are handling the situation well,” she said. “But others are finding it more difficult. Some students won’t leave the sheltered room in their home and never go out. So we have some psychologists helping us to help them.”
The concern felt by the school staff for students is as great as that felt for their own families, Ms Shavit said.
“I spend more time with these kids than with my own children; I consider them like my own children – we all do,” Ms Shavit said. “There’s a feeling of a family here. To be a teacher isn’t regular work. I have worked in high-tech but now I feel I am doing something important and meaningful.”
Ofra Halperin, World ORT Innovation Coordinator at Shikma High School in Hof Ashkelon, said teachers were sending their pupils coursework via Internet. Her school has had to cope with years of disruption and fear caused by Hamas rockets and she said she would be happy to offer advice and support to colleagues in Be’er Sheva for whom this was a new experience.
The Principal of Sha’ar HaNegev High School, Aharon Rothstein, and many of his teachers continue to work at the school despite it being only two kilometres from the Gaza border.
They are using the laptops provided by World ORT after their school was hit by Hamas rocket fire nearly two years ago to provide distance learning with housebound students.
The absence of students means that Mr Rothstein has more time to work on plans, supported by World ORT, to rebuild Sha’ar HaNegev on a new site farther from the border and to defensive specifications that will allow it to continue lessons even during a rocket attack.
Mr Rothstein is also meeting Israeli troops before they go in to Gaza to fight Hamas.
“I tell them about the situation we have been living in so that they understand why they have to fight,” he said. “But they already know. In fact they can tell me better why this is necessary! We can trust them to do well. Morale is high. They are great young men; I have no other words to describe them. We are proud that they are our sons and daughters. And among them are a lot of Sha’ar HaNegev graduates – 96 per cent of our students go on to serve in the IDF.”
Despite the current conflict, Mr Rothstein continues to be optimistic about the future. His school’s project to develop a civic studies curriculum promoting peaceful co-existence and democratic principles has brought together educators from Gaza, Israel, Jordan and other countries. While contact with the Gaza participants has been broken, Mr Rothstein has no doubt that it will be restored.
“We have to think about the day after,” he said. “The day after war ends they will be our neighbours. So once the fighting has stopped we will resume contact and build something new. We don’t have a choice. I teach our students to be Zionists, to go into the army and to do their duty in the belief that one day peace will come. I also teach them not to think about the other side as ‘enemies’ – they are human beings. If we think like this we will be able to open new relationships after the war. I know that there are a lot of civilians in Gaza who believe that there is no other way than to live together in peace. And to do that we have to know each other.
“To people on the outside it may seem crazy that we’re talking about peace when under rocket attack and our children are fighting. But that’s how wars are ended. And when the war is ended we’ll be ready to start from the beginning.”