Editor’s Note: On 18 February Maurine and Bob Tobin were able to deliver funds that their last group, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship of Maine, designated for the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center in Ramallah. Here’s their report:
Visiting with Giovanni Anbar, Director of the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center of Ramallah
We met with Giovanni Friday evening to present to him the remaining funds from the Diocese of Maine/EPF Pilgrimage, which the group had designated to buy desperately needed heating units for 2 classrooms. It has been unusually cold and wet here in the Holy Land and students are trying to work on computers and study in near freezing temperatures with only tiny space heaters for warmth. While the temperatures may not be cold by Maine standards just now, these old stone buildings without central heat are bone chilling. The heaters we’ve funded will be in place by early next week.
We heard not only the story of the development of this amazing school, but Giovanni’s own family story. Like almost everyone we know in Palestine, his family are refugees, forced from their home in Ramle (now in Israel) in 1948 by the Israeli paramilitary. His father, then 14, became the primary breadwinner for the family when Gio’s grandfather died shortly thereafter, leaving his wife with six children living in a church hall with hundreds of other refugees. Eventually, they were able to find a small apartment, and Gio’s father became an electrician, helping his siblings and then his children get educations. Gio reports that his grandmother once returned to Ramle, clutching the keys to the home from which they had been forced at gunpoint, only to be told by the Jewish family that had taken it over to leave and never come back under threat of arrest. He says he can’t remember ever seeing his grandmother smile.
The story of the school is the resurrection part of the story. Gio gained a university scholarship in Austria, then worked 5 years in a Swiss-sponsored vocational training and counseling program in Ramallah, but he was determined to stay in Palestine to share his knowledge. The Episcopal bishop offered him an abandoned building in Ramallah and a contact with a German group that offered expertise but only a little funding. Somehow over the years, through fund-raising, tenacity, and faith, he has gone from being the sole teacher/administrator of a one room computer lab to director of a program with 25 teachers, an extensive computer training program and a guesthouse/restaurant which acts as a lab for the students in the hotel and hospitality program. Graduates of both programs almost universally go directly into jobs, sustaining themselves and their families. The gift from Maine Episcopalians is the beginning of what we all hope will be an ongoing relationship with the school’s staff and students.
Despite the amazing success of the school and the new opportunities it has given countless students, Gio’s own eight year old daughter, who visited Germany with the family last year, has already announced her desire to move to Germany when she grows up. She and her sister witnessed the shooting of an unarmed Palestinian by an Israeli soldier as they were leaving school one day. She told Gio she wants to move to Germany because “it is green and clean and there are no soldiers with guns in the street.”