Spaghetti for the Soul

Posted in: Voices from the field

In East Jerusalem and across the West Bank, Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi is known as a renowned school for girls. In the past, it was also known for its large boarding section which housed 300 orphans and other underprivileged girls. But due to military checkpoints and restrictions around Jerusalem, the number of boarders has drastically decreased. This school year, only eight girls board.

Today these young girls are gathered around the dining table, enjoying a meal of spaghetti with their caretakers. Not only have these girls found a home and an education at Dar Al-Tifel, they’ve also found sisterhood with each other. As they share life together at the school, the Jerusalem community contributes to their well-being with continuous support—and many times, food!

Palestinian girls have a spaghetti dinner at the Dar Al-Tifl school for orphans in East Jerusalem.

It so happens that today’s dish of spaghetti sauce and meatballs was a gift from a philanthropist’s kitchen. It was prepared by the cook, Nawal, who has been cooking for the girls for almost three decades.

Nawal has her own story to tell. At 26 she found herself divorced with three small daughters in her care. She was able to get a job at the school as a cook, and she and her daughters also found refuge as boarding residents there. Now Nawal has lived with several generations of schoolgirls with whom she has shared spaghetti and precious memories. Her daughters, now adults, are Dar Al-Tifel graduates and successful and hardworking women in their own right.

Nawal is the cook at the Dar Al-Tifl school, and was a student there herself.

Nawal is the cook at the Dar Al-Tifl school, and was a student there herself.

The school is built upon that same notion of giving and sharing. It all began with the founder, Hind Al-Husseini, and a group of 1948 massacre survivors, all of whom were orphaned children. “I had at that time 138 Palestinian pounds in my pocket,” wrote Ms. Al-Husseini in her diary. “I’m going to live with the children as long as I can, as long as the money lasts, or die together with them.”

Today, with help from people around the world, the school has thrived as a vibrant community. It offers the young girls of Palestine an invaluable experience, shaping them into tomorrow’s leading women.

Palestinian girls have a spaghetti dinner at the Dar Al-Tifl school for orphans in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian girls have a spaghetti dinner at the Dar Al-Tifl school for orphans in East Jerusalem.

As spaghetti is a common and popular dish around the world, I thought you might not need the recipe. So, instead of a recipe to satisfy the body, here are some wise words of the late Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, to nurture your soul:

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark.”)


ANERA played a part in the development of the Dar Al-Tifel Al-Arabi school by building a much-needed playground and garden, and offering financial funding for students for several years.

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