by Elli Atchison
Peter is special…. and it shows. This young man from Bethlehem has a twinkle in his eyes and a magnetic smile that draws a stranger in close. Life has been challenging for him as Peter was born with hearing impairments that made learning difficult. This would ordinarily put him in a segment of Palestinian society that is marginalized and cast aside.
However, despite his inability to communicate with words, Peter is outgoing and makes friends easily. He is a talented artist and an accomplished olive wood carver. Peter thanks the Joy School for giving him the opportunity to learn and develop these skills.
The Joy School in Shepherd’s Field enrolls about fifty students. It is a ministry of the Catholic diocese in Bethlehem and run by a priest named Father Mamdouh. Its mission is to serve the community’s special needs youth by providing a variety of learning experiences. Students are taught basic academics as well as traditional skills like olive wood carving and embroidery techniques. According to Father Mamdouh, there is a long waiting list of children that would also like to attend the school. Many Palestinians feel that a serious stigma applies to having a child with disability and that, as a result, children with disabilities, especially girls, are hidden at home. These children often feel isolated and do not have the opportunity to receive an education. The Joy School would love to accept many more children with special needs, but are limited at this point due to funding.
At the Joy School, students are growing in knowledge, ability, and confidence. They create beautiful crafts that generate needed income for their families. But, more importantly, their efforts help to build their own self-worth. And, that is a quality that is far more precious than any amount of money! In Peter’s words, “I am happy in this school. I learned a profession. I am earning money, helping my mother and also taking some money for me.” He smiled, “I want to stay in the school!”
The Joy School would love to host a summer camp for children with disabilities. They need resources, money, and volunteers who can help. Does your church or organization have a heard for children with special needs? Can you help with financial gifts, prayers, or volunteers? Contact Mae Elise Cannon for more information on how you can be involved in bringing Joy to children with disabilities in Palestine.
You see the inherent value of each individual. In Your eyes, we are all unique and gifted, born with a special purpose and something to share (Jer. 29:11). Thank You for places like the Joy School that are Your hands and feet in this world today. Thank You for the teachers and staff that model Your love through helping others improve their lives. May we too be sources of joy in the lives of those around us by walking along side of them in their personal challenges and giving them hope for a brighter future (1 Thes. 5:11). And finally, thank You for the inspiration we receive from Peter. Help us to find contentment in our circumstances, whatever they may be (Phil. 4:11). Remind us to live with a smile and positive spirit that expresses gratitude for the many blessings You provide.
Editor’s Note: A version of this prayer was originally published here February 2015