GAZA – The end of 2012 saw the completion of one of the major projects carried out by the Latin Patriarchate in the Holy Family School in Gaza. For nearly a year, the architect of the Patriarchate and his associates have worked to add an additional 3rd floor on the school building, with the challenge of leaving the school open that students continue to attend classes during the year.
The expansion is no less than 1045 sq. m. in addition to that presently available at the Holy Family School in Gaza. The third floor has added a large multipurpose room with 250 seats, a service area with kitchen, a bathroom fitted for the disabled, three rooms for specialized courses (physics lab and others), a staff room, an administrative office, a library and a few other necessary facilities. An external elevator was also built to serve all floors.
The project began on December 7, 2011 and was completed in September 2012. The work was made possible through the generosity of many donors, including the John Paul II association, which assumed the construction costs. Though the work is completed, there are still some technical elements to refine, specific to the particular situation in Gaza. “Now”, says Father Hijazen, Director of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Schools in Palestine, “we are studying the question of a generator because often there are problems with power cuts in the Gaza Strip that make it difficult for the students in the course of their studies.”
Challenges of a project in a Gazan school
The situation in Gaza actually makes any project complicated. In addition to daily poweroutage, the developers of this vast project also faced difficulties in supplying certain materials that were not available in the Gaza Strip.
Materials such as steel sections had to be brought from outside with delivery made slow due to border controls. The arrival of the most important materials also suffered from the shortage of fuel especially for machinery, it was difficult for trucks to get around the site to pump and pour concrete. Just as construction was completed, the school sustained several damages (doors torn, broken glass, etc.) during the “8-day war” in November as bombs exploded in its vicinity.
Other internal challenges at the school
Keeping the school open during construction so as not to interrupt classes and to maintain the excellence of scholastic standards, all the while ensuring the safety of the site. Barriers, guards, covers were put in place for this purpose. And 100% of students received their diplomas at the end of the year to the satisfaction of the principal, Father Jorge Hernandez.
Being able to accommodate, despite the construction site, the traditional graduation ceremony of presentation of diplomas at a grand ceremony with Patriarch Fouad Twal, held in the courtyard of the school. It was necessary to undertake a cleanup, clear the playground, remove the steel shields and, after the party, all safety guards were restored.
Nearly 1,000 students in Gaza: “be open to all”
The Palestinian schools of the Latin Patriarchate welcome nearly 6,000 students of which 43% are Christians. In Gaza, the Latin Patriarchate supports two schools with 968 students, 855 non-Christians and 113 Christians (barely 12% of students). Numbers differ from the rest of Palestine, to which Father Hijazen states: “Gaza is a very important school to us because it is a way to help Christians to remain in the country.” The Director of Palestine schools also makes no secret that there is the “pressure of Islam” with children. “For example”, he said, “last week a young Christian decided to change his religion and become a Muslim.” The school is also a way to help young people “keep their faith.” Father Hernandez, the School Principal and Pastor of the Holy Family Parish, with the three religious communities present on the campus, know how to make daily presence felt on-site and be available to the students. Besides, Father Jorge does not fail to underline regularly “We live like a family here”.
The Holy Family School, shared between two buildings, employs 86 people (management, administration, teachers and services). Twenty two are Christians, and some are Muslims. It is a collaboration that lives in peace and brotherhood daily and invites students to live the same way. The character and atmosphere of the Holy Family school reflect the spirit of the Latin Patriarchate schools of Jerusalem: “Be open to all.”