“We help the girls to not fight the bad with more bad.”
We’re entering into a unique place in the Holy City, one where they live and learn about coexistence.
It’s the Our Lady of Pilar school, commonly known as the Spanish School of Jerusalem, in which Palestinian girls share desks and studies. There are around 200 Muslim and Christian pupils who coexist in this small school, from their early years until college.
These are the youngest students, who are instructed by Mother Marta Gallo, a Missionary Daughter of Calvary.
Activities begin early in the morning, at 8 a.m. Teachers welcome students, even though not all of them arrive on time, as some live in Bethany, Ramallah or Bethlehem. To get to school, these children must pass through daily Israeli police checkpoints. However, no obstacle is great enough to make the girls give up on their studies, because this school also trains them in something else as much if not more than academics.
MOTHER MARTA GALLO
“One of the things we work on most, in addition to instruction, is obviously forming good, permanent friendships among all the girls – among the Christians, among the Muslims and among the Christians and Muslims. To us, they’re all equal, regardless of their different customs at home. If you go look in a class, you won’t be able to tell who is what.”
The work also extends to parents, Christians and Muslims, with the goal of building one big family at the school. They know the girls are surrounded by a violent environment; thus, there’s a special class for peace education.
MOTHER MARTA GALLO
“We help the girls to not fight the bad with more bad. We help as much as we can, not only in religion classes, but each grade also has a weekly class where they’re all together learning about a different topic of human and religious formation.”
Elvira is one of the professors who give these classes that teach respect for all and the cultivation of peace. She’s one of the most-experienced teachers, as she’s taught at the school since 1974.
ELVIRA ABU ISSA
“If you ask the girls, they will tell you, ‘We are friends, we are sisters. There’s no problem.’ For example, last week, we had a Muslim girl who had her birthday. They celebrated the birthday without telling her they knew she had a birthday. They bought a nice gift for her, the Christians and the Muslims, and they celebrated her birthday in the school.”
The school moves forward, though not without difficulty. It collects a small tuition fee, which not all families are able to pay. Therefore, private donors and organizations like Social Promotion Foundation provide financial support so this oasis of peace in the Holy Land can open its doors every morning.