Al Shurooq School for the Blind was founded in 1981 by Helen Shehadeh, an elder of St. Andrew’s
Church of Scotland in Jerusalem, who overcame the challenge of losing her eye-sight aged two, to become a devoted teacher and director of one of Bethlehem’s powerful social work institutions.
Our former minister, Tom Nelson, his wife Catherine, and one of our church members, May MacFadyean, visited Al Shurooq in 2007, as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and were deeply moved by what they saw. As a result, Netherlee Church has now forged strong links with the school, and has pledged ongoing support and friendship. Says Tom: “It is Christians like Helen who are keeping the gospel story alive in the Holy Land today.”
Al Shurooq is the story of one woman’s perseverance. Founded by Helen in 1981, with the aim of enabling blind people in Palestine to become self-sufficient and productive members of their society, the school is in Palestinian territory, behind the wall that divides them from Israel. The school is residential and provides total care and education for children from age two upwards. 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.
In 2009 the school moved into a brand new purpose-built building. It has three floors and can house up to thirty children in five bedrooms each sleeping six. There are classrooms, dining and assembly halls, a Braille Production Room and staff accommodation. This whole project was paid for by public donations, and the ongoing work is also totally reliant on the generosity of supporters. Members of Netherlee Church, together with other congregations on the south-side of Glasgow were delighted to contribute to the furnishings of the new building.
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.
Children from Netherlee Sunday Club have already donated funds to the school, and have designed tactile Christmas cards with raised shapes and textures like velvet and cotton wool to send to children in Al Shurooq – each with a specially printed Braille message inside. In 2008, Netherlee Church, as part of Clarkston Churches Together, hosted a weekend visit from the Head Teacher of the school to help raise awareness and much-needed financial support.
The school believes in continuous improvement and has recently introduced assistive technology equipment in classrooms – a reader with a digital magnifying device connected with LCD screen, to help visually impaired children read a book or a text clearly.
The current project is fundraising for a Sensory Room to provide a calming atmosphere for visually impaired children, which helps to improve eye condition, develop language skills and improve mental development. The space for this has been identified, but support is needed to equip the room with sensory elements to make the service available for the children.
For more information on the school, visit the Al Shurooq website: www.nsfvh.org