As I look back at all that has taken place in our 9th school year at the Ein Bustan kindergarten and school, I have mixed feelings.
I am full of satisfaction at the many wonderful activities that have taken place in our special organization, which brings Arab and Jewish children and their families together to form a unique community unlike any other. Some of these activities have become “traditions” in Ein Bustan, such as our annual Eid El Adha celebration and lantern walk, our Purim walk and gifts of food to neighbors (“mishloah manot”) in the surrounding Bedouin villages, or our annual Family Spring Hike, during which we all enjoyed the flowers, fresh pitot (bread made over the fire) and each other’s company in the local nature reserve. There were also new and exciting events that we initiated, such as a second-hand market day, or the joint event at the Israel Circus school. (See article by Smadar Buyum) However, perhaps what makes Ein Bustan special is the day-to-day “routine” of Arab and Jewish children, ages 3-9, naturally playing and studying together in a nurturing educational environment, with dedicated Arabic and Hebrew speaking teachers, who view their work as much more than a job.
My other prevailing feeling is one of amazement - I am amazed that the organization is “alive and kicking” (to quote founder Amir Shlomian in the article “Life Begins Now”), since we had to deal with some very difficult, and what seemed like almost insurmountable challenges this past year! Almost every month was a struggle to pay salaries and deal with bureaucracy, and without a series of “miracles” (miracles that can be directly credited to you, our dear supporters and donors) I think I can safely say that we would have had to close. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for helping to make these series of miracles happen!
Our chief (although by no means only) difficulty was a financial one. Ein Bustan’s budget is comprised of three main sources: budget subsidies from the Israel Ministry of Education, parent fees, and donations (as well as a small amount of self generated income from products, events, etc.) However, as of today, for the entire school year from September 2013 until present, we have received no budget at all from the Ministry of Education. Since communication with the Ministry is not direct, but takes place through a series of subcontractor companies that they employ, it took many frustrating months for us to receive adequate explanations from the Ministry and to understand the reason they were holding back our budget. Eventually it became apparent that the Ministry was of the opinion that Ein Bustan had not complied with certain regulations. In addition, although we have a valid license for our oldest, original, kindergarten, we were unsuccessful in receiving a license for the “new” additional kindergarten, and were threatened with closure - again, the reasons were not immediately understandable or transparent.
In order to address these problems we made many efforts to make physical adjustments and improvements, and meet safety and sanitation requirements. Since we realized that some mistakes had been made because of our lack of knowledge, we hired an experienced lawyer to sort things out. The many energies and finances that were expended to deal with the above situation, and the corresponding lack of income from the Ministry, together with the need to pay for legal assistance, forced us to rely more heavily on donations than we would have liked, and ultimately to make painful budget cuts to program and staff, in order to survive. We are still in the midst of this process, but we are determined not to let these obstacles stop us - we will comply with Ministry requirements and will open the kindergarten in September 2014 wiser in experience and fully prepared, and hopefully with the assurance of a reliable, regular income from the Ministry, and the ability to pay our staff the salaries they deserve.
Our pioneer school posed a different, although equally difficult, set of challenges. As mentioned in our previous report, the effort to obtain a license for the school and budget from the Ministry was a long and drawn out process, and in the interim period some families left, leaving us with an even smaller number of students. Furthermore, in the recent local elections, a new local council and new mayor were voted in. The building that we had lovingly restored with many efforts - suddenly seemed attractive to them, and the council has demanded that we evacuate our present building, despite the contract that was signed with the previous mayor. This week, one month before the conclusion of the school year, we received a final closure notice, and while we intend to complete the school year, it is clear that without the cooperation and support of the local council and the Ministry of Education, we will not be able to continue our school in the present building, and the small number of students does not make the class economically viable.
As many of you are aware, Amir Shlomian, founder, teacher and Director of Ein Bustan, has been the source of inspiration and a central guiding force since the very beginning of our initiative. Recently Amir became aware that he was ill, and he terminated his employment in Ein Bustan (although he continues to be involved in Ein Bustan on a volunteer basis on the Board.)
As we have so often seen throughout the years, crisis is often an opportunity for change! The legal, bureaucratic, financial and administrative issues described above made us realize the need for wider involvement of members and provided us with a needed push towards reorganization and change in Ein Bustan.
A small group of motivated parents formed a task-oriented steering committee, which has been meeting weekly over the past few months to work on various issues, such as publicity and recruiting new families. In addition, several committed supporters with organizational experience have joined and have been consulting and assisting the Board. New families and others are officially joining the association as members and we aim to hold a general meeting in the near future, in which we will vote in new Board members. We have also been exploring an exciting possibility for cooperation with a Bedouin NGO in a nearby village who have offered us the opportunity to use a new building which was specially build as an educational center.
In a recent general meeting we discussed the pros and cons of moving part or all of Ein Bustan’s activities to this locale, in the near future, or perhaps at a later date. These options are still being explored as I write, and a final decision has not yet been made.
We are confident that the Ministry of Education will eventually send us the funding that we were eligible for, however until that point - without financial assistance our very survival is in question. We may decide to reduce the scope of our activities in the coming year, so that we can stabilize the organization, if this is what the current reality dictates, but we do not intend to give up on our vision of a society in which Jews and Arabs live together equally in peace, sharing each other’s language and culture, and educating our children together. Please continue to help us keep Ein Bustan alive!
Our path is not an easy one, but we are full of admiration, love and respect for the good people, Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, from Israel, Palestine, and countries throughout the world, who are willing to invest their time, effort and financial donations to help us realize this vision on a daily basis.
We treasure your support and kindness. Shukran, Toda, Thank you.
Wishing you a happy summer!
on behalf of the Staff, families and children of Ein Bustan
Maayan Babustan(Ein Bustan) POB 206, Kiryat Tivon 36011
Tel 972-53-4206133 Fax 972-4-9833688 firstname.lastname@example.org