In 2007 a small Congregational church on Cape Cod called a new minister who came from Old Lyme, wanted to hold a program on Israel/Palestine, and asked for volunteers to help organize it. That was my introduction to Tree of Life and afforded me the opportunity to meet some wonderful young people and not only hear about their challenges living under Occupation in the West Bank, but also their hopes and dreams for the future. Since then I have traveled to Palestine four times and hosted many young visitors to the Cape, who shared their experiences, culture and music at our programs.
Palestinian families have the same aspirations as parents and children in the United States and as their Jewish Israeli neighbors. They value education, want to go to college, get jobs to support themselves and contribute to the economic progress of their country. For Palestinians, pursuing an education may require negotiating checkpoints on their trip from home to school or internship and being subjected to the indecencies inherent in that process, or especially in Hebron being harassed by violent Jewish settlers while walking to school. In 2015 Tree of Life hosted two young women who had persevered and were graduating from Bethlehem University to pursue careers in medical fields. They viewed education as an effective, non-violent means of resisting the Israeli occupation; as an essential way to magnify their roles in their communities and to advocate for Palestinian women; and as a means to empower Palestinians in shaping a peaceful future that protects their culture and values.
These dedicated young women were recipients of Tree of Life college scholarships. Almost 10 years ago the Tree of Life board made a commitment to fund tuition at a 4-year Palestinian college for select young women and men, through graduation. Over the years most have attended Bethlehem University with a few going to Al Quds or Birzeit. Unlike the high tuitions in the U.S., one semester has ranged from $700-$950.
Three years ago we changed our mode of supporting students. Instead of direct support, we decided to offer scholarships through two organizations, who select the students with the most financial need and monitor the students’ progress for us. We are grateful for our partnership with the Al Rowwad Cultural Center, who assists us with our scholarships in the West Bank. The students live in the Dheisheh, Beit Jebrin, Aida Camps and in the area around Bethlehem. The Middle East Children’s Alliance assists us with our scholarships for students in Gaza. Additionally, Tree of Life has had a long-standing relationship with the Greek Orthodox Shepherd’s School (K-12) in Beit Sahour, and we now provide financial assistance to those families.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We hope that through support of our scholarship program you will help Tree of Life create a better world for the youth of Palestine.
Elaine F. Brouillard
Tree of Life Educational Fund