Al Shurooq Blind School
Al Shurooq School for the Blind was founded by Helen Shehadeh in 1981 with the aim of enabling blind people in Palestine to become self sufficient and productive members of society. The first premises were in Jerusalem, but in 1995 they moved to Bethlehem, allowing beneficiaries from the southern part of the West Bank, unable to enter Jerusalem, to gain access to the society’s services and programmes.
The school is affiliated to The National Society for the Visually Handicapped and provides total care and education for children ages from two upwards, who are brought to them. Some pay a small contribution towards their upkeep, as their families are able, but many are from very poor families or have been abandoned. The focus is on rehabilitation and integration into the local community. First premises were in Jerusalem, but in 1995 Helen moved to Bethlehem catering for visually impaired children from the southern part of the West Bank unable to enter Jerusalem.
Helen is an elder of St. Andrew’s Kirk, in Jerusalem and over the years has built up great friendships with Scottish pilgrim parties. The many plaques around the new building testify to ongoing partnerships giving Al Shurooq the feel of a little outpost of Scotland in Bethlehem!
Children are accommodated and attend school in the same building. They follow a normal curriculum with classes in Maths, Geography, History and the like. In addition they learn Braille, both in Arabic and English and are taught daily living skills and helped with their mobility. Extra curricular activities such as music and art also feature prominently as do computer classes using synthesizers.
When the child returns home, the school keeps in touch and actively helps them to integrate, providing many of the essential tools they will need including Braille textbooks and typewriters, Braille paper, magnifiers, canes and tape recorders.
Specialized social workers visit the children in their villages and offer them, their parents and teachers, support where often there is great ignorance. There are still many people who believe that blindness is not altogether respectable. This is a prime prejudice that Al Shurooq seeks to change. Helen strives to instil confidence in the children to do things for themselves and by themselves and not to be the pitied victims that many people expect them to be.