Al Saraya Center for Community Service was established as a non profit organization in 1991. It is located in the heart of the Old City in Jerusalem at a strategic area called Aqabet Al Saraya, not too far from Al Aqsa Mosque nor the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Center was established to meet the urgent need to strengthen the Arab presence in Jerusalem with the aim of improving the cultural, social, educational and economic conditions of the population and contributing to reducing the effects of Israeli policies aimed at Judaizing the city.
The Center believes in the importance of the family’s role in societal change, so it has been targeting women, children and youth for more than thirty years through various awareness and training programs in an attempt to create a more aware and strong Jerusalemite family while maintaining its existence and the continuity of its giving and good reputation despite all the threats faced by Jerusalemite institutions.
In the midst of the tension caused by the first Gulf war, the staff in Al-Saraya Center prepared to celebrate the inauguration of what became a second home to many of our children and school students in the Old City. The journey of Al-Saraya Center wasn’t an easy one, for it had to work in an environment where schools were closed and curfews were imposed. The staff realized the importance of establishing the Center in this critical time and place, and the need for an institute that could fulfill and develop programs that match the needs of the Jerusalemite families in the area.
Based on cumulative experiences, Al-Saraya Center defined its priorities through working directly with the targeted groups and through highlighting the needs that emerged after the huge setback in their economic, social, cultural and educational status.
In 2013, the Centre witnessed several essential changes that enriched its work by defining the main basics in dealing with the targeted groups. After reviewing the previous strategic plan and setting a new framework, a new strategic plan was set and was ready to be implemented. The new strategic plan included a new programmatic approach towards positive social change through adopting new awareness-raising and empowering mechanisms which addressed two main issues; education and life skills.
Due to the fact that education is considered a fundamental element of social change, the new strategic plan mainly focused on that. The systematic collapse of the educational system in Jerusalem is considered one of the main reasons that contributed to spreading social, cultural, and economical problems. The percentage of students who left school before finishing their secondary education exceeded 40%, taking into consideration that this percentage will be higher in the coming years, if it wasn’t handled seriously. The reasons underpinning this problem are many, starting with the inappropriate environment that includes lack of space, and ending with the lack of proper educational curricula. Moreover, most teachers aren’t qualified enough for this job that requires creativity and the adaptation of new specific strategies that deal with the social and psychological state of each student. Therefore, efforts had to be united and a clear plan had to be developed to tackle all the issues and find a way to solve them through a joint effort of all parties.
The staff also identified another need; lack of basic life skills. There are many life skills, but those which are related to the personality development and the ability of an individual to face life’s obstacles were noticed to be missing amongst most of the targeted groups. These skills encompassed the skills of expressing one’s self, analyzing, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems. Most of these skills are commonly acquired at an early age and with the help of the family and school and have huge impact on the future of the individual.
Focusing on these two main issues, education and life skills required a lot of time and effort, to develop the skills of the social workers. Such a task is critical especially with donors and funders expecting tangible and quick results not taking into consideration that these changes can’t happen overnight.
Since its establishment, Al-Saraya Center has proved to be trustworthy and reliable to the Jerusalemite community. In the meantime, Al-Saraya Center has succeeded in establishing partnerships with different organizations and has been able to meet and satisfy donors.
The critical location of the Centre, the Israeli unjust regulations and the existence of the Israeli settlers in the area were hindrances confronting the development of the Centre. However, Al-Saraya Center was able to develop its vision which is concentrated on enabling Jerusalemites to live with dignity.
Finally, it is vital that our focus should be on empowerment and steadfastness of our people. This requires reconsideration of the desired goals of funding and redefining the priorities that best meet the needs of the Jerusalemite community in order to preserve the Arabic character of Jerusalem.
We are in a race against time.