The home caring for Bethlehem’s other children

The Crèche, in the biblical town of Bethlehem, shelters new-born babies and toddlers.

Many of them are illegitimate, some the product of rapes or simply abandoned. It is the staff's job to care for the children, those who were given up and others who are at risk from parents or relatives.

The children are brought up as Muslim, unless the Catholic nuns and Palestinian staff who run The Crèche know otherwise.

As in December 2019, this time of the year is always a chance to celebrate, whatever the babies’ origins and unhappy nativity.

Iskandar Andon is a Palestinian social worker who works with the institution.

“The Crèche is a boarding house, that takes in children from birth to five years of age. It has a long history of around 140 years, the first of its kind in historic Palestine, and deals with a very special and unique thing, taking care of three kinds of children: Illegitimate children, children with unknown parents, and children from problematic social backgrounds where the ties between them and their families are broken for various reasons like social disintegration, violence, divorce, separation, and so on.’’

The Creche’s quiet charitable work wins it respect and recognition, like this visit in January by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

“In this long-established institute that is 150 years old, which nurtures children, children that have lived through, are living through and were born in exceptional circumstances, unnatural ones, what this institute does, is basically a sight of utter manifestation of humanity.”

But what The Crèche needs most of all is money. The donations it relies on from Europe and elsewhere have thinned out, especially over the past troubled year. A year in which the pandemic created additional pressures for the institution and those who support it.

Almost allvisits to the Crèche were stopped and the children confined to the institution.

“Seven children almost had the chance to leave the Crèche, to better homes, individual homes, and to practice their right of living in a normal family life like other children. Until this day, this all was halted.”

For one of the carers feeling those new pressures, life has come full circle. Mariam Ayesh was also one of the children who started her life at the Creche.

‘’Every once in a while, I used to volunteer here. That was before I graduated, but after that I started looking for a job. I worked in a few jobs, but in the end I decided to work here for two reasons: to have a job, and to build relationships. Because I understand the nature of the kids, and the place is familiar to me. I might not remember my childhood here, but my relationship with the place was very strong, so I liked the idea of working here.’’

This Christmas time there’s an unexpected reason to celebrate. One of the children is starting a new life, with both biological parent, who’ve reconciled, married and set up home together.

“We were very happy that this girl started with us in Christmas 2019, and ended with a celebration in 2020, and we hope that the rest of her life will be lived in stability and safety with this family. And this is similar to the story of the child that was born, in Christmas 2020 years ago, in a house with difficult conditions with a father and mother that didn't know where best to be, under hard conditions. And we saw later how this turned out.”