Investing in Dura's Future

West Bank and Gaza, June 8, 2004

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    Mayor Mohammad Abu Atwan of Dura (left) and Mercy Corps Program Operations Director Steve Claborne discuss challenges in the West Bank. Photo: Roger Burks/Mercy Corps Photo:

Mercy Corps is making a difference in the troubled West Bank by building schools that impart hope for the future.

According to Mohammad Abu Atwan, mayor of the West Bank city of Dura, these schools have galvanized the community and given its citizens enormous pride and purpose. “The schools that Mercy Corps is creating are re-inventing hope for the people of Dura,” he said.

On Wednesday, May 26, Atwan met with Mercy Corps staff in Portland to discuss challenges and opportunities in Dura and throughout the West Bank. He participated in a discussion with Mercy Corps Director-at-Large Dr. Landrum Bolling, Program Operations Director Steve Claborne and many staff members.

Dura is a medium-sized city with a population of 70,000. According to Atwan, the city has always maintained a keen focus on education. Currently, there are over 20,000 students in Dura’s educational system.

In order to ensure continued quality learning for schoolchildren and future generations in Dura, Mercy Corps is partnering with the city to build nine new schools. The project, which will result in 84 brand-new classrooms, began in November 2002 and will be completed in January 2005. This initiative is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education.

One of the schools scheduled to open is a Girls’ Vocational School, the first of its kind in the West Bank. This school will offer high school graduates specialized training and formal education in skills such as business and finance, interior decorating and computers.

Local officials are also looking into the possibility of a distance learning program that would link the Girls’ Vocational School to college or university programs outside the West Bank.

In Dura, where the unemployment rate currently hovers around 60%, quality education is vital to the town’s future prospects. Atwan also sees these new schools as an investment for Dura’s place in a peaceful global community.

“The schools being built will produce children who want to live in peace with the world,” he said. “I am one of the people who believes in peace.”

Citizens living in West Bank cities like Dura face a harsh reality where barriers, roadblocks and bulldozers are daily reminders of hardship and struggle. Atwan believes that ongoing cooperation between Mercy Corps and his city will foster understanding and solidarity between the people of Dura and the outside world.

Atwan also commented that, even during periods of occupation and civil strife, the citizens of Dura work to ensure that the schools stay open. Local residents have taken responsibility for the security and maintenance of schools.

“Life must go on. Together, we’re trying to overcome difficulties by building while other things are demolished,” Atwan said. “The schools that Mercy Corps is building are now known as landmarks for the city of Dura.”

Even in the face of overwhelming struggles, collaboration and hope endure.