Retired couple Mike and Jeanette Elliot from Toronto have been supporting Jerusalem Students since 2012 and are one of the few individual sponsors in the project. They are sitting in with a class from the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School. Photo courtesy of Jeanette Elliott

Canadian sponsors reach out to Jerusalem school

By 
  • October 30, 2017
The Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Jerusalem has been operating on a deficit for a long time. But thanks to a small charity run by Knights of Columbus, the school has a lifeline in Canada. 

The Jerusalem Students project (JerusalemStudents.org) is a web-based charity supported by the Knights of Columbus in Canada. Jesus the King Parish’s former Grand Knight, Hikmat Dandan, developed the idea in 2010 as a way to support Christian families in the Holy Land. 

“Without the continuous support of the sponsors, many students would not probably be able to graduate,” said Dandan, chairman of the project. “Remember that Jerusalem Students is not only about education but it’s also about preserving the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

The school has more than 650 students enrolled from kindergarten to Grade 12.  More than 80 students are matched up with sponsors from Canada and the United States. There are 100 more students waiting for sponsorship.

On Oct. 22, the Jerusalem Students project hosted its annual sponsors’ Mass at the Cathedral of Transfiguration, a Byzantine-inspired community centre in Markham, Ont. 

The Mass was presided by Christ the King pastor Fr. Ibrahim El Haddad with a special video message from Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Jerusalem. The Mass celebrated Canadian and American sponsors who are funding partial scholarships for students in need in the Holy Land.

After Mass, sponsors were presented with a file folder that included a photo of their sponsored student along with their report cards, and thank-you letters from the student and the principal. Most of the sponsors, Dandan said, are Knights of Columbus councils across the country. 

“This program is not only about education, but it is really about preserving the Christian presence,” said Dan Heffernan, Ontario state deputy of the Knights of Columbus.  “These needy students will graduate, go to university and will form successful families.”

Retired couple Mike and Jeanette Elliot from Toronto have been supporting Jerusalem Students since 2012 and are one of the few individual sponsors in the project. They received four file folders that day — two girls and two boys. 

“It makes us feel we’re doing something very worthwhile,” said Mike. “We’re very proud of the kids.”

“We feel we’re the ones gaining from this, spiritually and mentally,” Jeanette added.

The Greek Catholic Patriarchate School is the largest Christian school in the Bethlehem area. However, it is running a total debt of more than $250,000.

Like many other Christian schools in the area, it is a private school. Government-funded schools are free, but because the population is predominantly Muslim, the curriculums are focused on the study of Islam.

If families want to raise their children in the Christian tradition, they have little option but to pay the 3,200 Israeli shekels ($1,143 Cdn) for yearly tuition at the school. 

School principal Sawsan Istephan said the cost per student, however, is about $2,300 a year. Other factors that contribute to the increasing debt is the growing class sizes, which requires hiring more teachers. 

“The school has worked hard to reduce the financial deficit,” Istephan wrote in a letter. “Any additional financial support from you will help us live up to our mission.”

The Jerusalem Students project donated a record $41,000 this year, including $10,000 from an anonymous donor to go towards the school’s debt.

Sponsors help subsidize the tuition by $500 per student. Although it is not a full scholarship, Istephan said families in need are incredibly grateful. 

“With (the sponsors’) help, we try to lessen the burden on some of the struggling families to make them feel taken care of and wanted in their homeland,” said Istephan. “Their act of solidarity gives us, Christians in the Holy Land, a feeling of security that someone out there is looking out for us.”

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