Christian schools in the Holy Land are facing an unprecedented situation as Covid restrictions leave families unable to afford school fees. That's according to the charity, Friends of the Holy Land, which is supporting struggling schools in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem.
More than a hundred pupils have had to leave Christian schools in Ramallah recently after the continued absence of tourism left many families without income.
Iyad Rafidi, is the Director of the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School, one of six Christian schools in the city. It was founded by a group of nuns in the 1950s and has around 820 Christian and Muslim pupils.
He told Premier his school has lost ten students recently.
"About 85 per cent of our income comes from fees," he said. "Many sectors of business for the families was disastrous, and they were unable to pay the fees. Some of them are able to pay partially but others are totally broken.
"Due to the pandemic and the closures, some of them decided to move from our school and from other Christian Schools in Ramallah. It was a painful decision for the parents. We as Christian Schools have a mission to protect and keep those children from going to the public sector. But of course, we need to find the funds."
Around 80 per cent of the economy in Nazareth and Bethlehem is based on tourism and Mr Rafidi says many parents have lost their jobs or taken a cut in salary as a result of the pandemic.
Mr Rafidi says the schools are being supported by charities, including Friends of the Holy Land, which has been providing some scholarships.
"We are putting in extra efforts to get funds from our friends all over the world. But our friends are also in a bad situation because of the pandemic. Also, we're trying to accept more students per class. We're trying to minimise our expenditure as much as we can. But I am afraid at a certain point, we will not be able to pay the full salaries of the teachers."
Mr Rafidi says the school is trying its best to help struggling families.
"Our mission is of a Christian that helps those who are in need. So we cannot abandon them easily."
Friends of the Holy Land is launching a Pentecost Challenge to raise funds to help keep pupils in Christian schools.