Stories From the Field:
Bringing Water to Bethlehem

We were delighted to receive this note from Joseph Hazboun, regional director for Palestine and Israel.

Editor’s note: We were delighted to receive this note from Joseph Hazboun, regional director for Palestine and Israel, describing how a grant from CNEWA is helping a group of religious sisters care for the elderly in Bethlehem.

At the Antonian Charitable Society, Sister Caterina, responsible for the kitchen and Sister Lizy, Mother Superior, were overwhelmed with joy when the society’s large old rainwater cistern was repaired and cleaned, and made ready for the winter rainy season.

The cistern stood neglected for years and the society relied solely on Bethlehem’s water network. That could be problematic. Piped water was often shut off (due to water shortages) or made prohibitively expensive, due to price increases because of a longstanding drought. Rainwater cisterns are common in Bethlehem and other urban areas and are in fact, an ancient method developed and perfected by the Nabataeans. They began to appear in Palestinian cities during the Assyrian period. Since then, the rainwater cistern was always a practical way for locals to have access to potable water, especially in the summer months. As technology advancement and urban growth became apparent in the past half century, many Bethlehem residents and institutions moved away from these ancient practices of channeling and collecting rainwater and utilized the water system as the main source of potable water.

In recent years however, a severe drought has decreased water reserves throughout Bethlehem. Last summer, Bethlehem had a water shortage that lasted more than a month, as reserves reached all-time lows and water tanker trucks became the only method of distributing potable water.

For the Sisters at the Antonian Charitable Society, that meant their water bills were soaring last summer — far higher than what they had budgeted for. As part of CNEWA’s efforts to care for the marginalized, a grant was provided to the Sisters of the Antonian Charitable Society in 2017 to provide photovoltaic solar panels. These could generate free solar electricity to operate medical equipment, lights and kitchen appliances at the society. That grant also eliminated the society’s reliance on piped water and water supplied by trucks through the rehabilitation of the society’s old rainwater cistern. The grant also enabled the installation of hydroponic units for the kitchen to grow organic vegetables. This is an alternative method that feeds 50 elderly members and 29 women residents daily, saving much money on groceries. There is also enough water left in the cistern for household cleaning and bathing.

The sisters have expressed their gratitude to CNEWA for helping to make these practical solutions a reality — and they are especially grateful that they can continue to provide services for the elderly in Bethlehem.

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