Amira Barham aims to share the particular struggles of Palestinian women and children
June 6, 2023
Amira Barham, a Palestinian Christian social worker, will serve as one of the PC(USA)’s 2023 International Peacemakers. She hopes to enlighten American Christians on the plight of Palestinians living under occupation.
“Palestine has been under Israeli occupation since 1948 with the ongoing oppressive daily practices against the Indigenous people by a heavily militarized colonizing force,” she said.
Up to 10 individuals from all over the world are International Peacemakers this year as part of Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Peacemakers will travel around the United States visiting churches and sharing their experience and insights about issues of justice and peace in their home contexts.
In particular, Barham hopes to share from both her personal and professional experience about the specific challenges facing Palestinian women and children.
“I will talk about experiences of children and women in Palestine where daily life has added stress, distress and trauma because of the Israeli occupation practices and how precious it is for Palestinians to gain a sense of safety, wellbeing and maintain resilience,” Barham said. “They say, ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger,’ and that certainly is not always true, unfortunately, especially without the right support.”
Barham has spent her life trying to provide the support she sees that people desperately need. She was born and raised in the town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. Through the Fulbright Scholarship Program, she received a Master of Social Work degree from California State University, Long Beach in 1999. During her studies and in the decades since, Barham has worked with a variety of vulnerable populations in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Palestine.
In Palestine, Barham’s work has centered on young adults and children. She has previously done prevention and treatment work for those struggling with substance misuse. She has worked with Al-Harah Theater to develop child safeguarding and wellbeing policies and provide counseling that utilizes both drama and social work techniques.
Most recently, Barham has worked with an organization called Sounds of Palestine, which “uses music and orchestra teaching to enhance the children’s self-esteem, confidence and impact positive social change and community involvement.”
During Covid, lockdown measures interfered with Sounds of Palestine’s ability to continue in-person programming. Sounds of Palestine became one of the first organizations in Barham’s area to go virtual, moving lessons online and conducting social work support activities online and over the phone. Barham said she oversaw the social work team during this time, and was responsible for monitoring the program’s online activity and developing online and Zoom protocols that protected the children in their program.
“Despite all the adversity, I saw children carry their instruments with enthusiasm to a balcony or a staircase to find spaces and a strong enough internet connection so that they could attend their lessons,” she said. “I saw music teachers and social workers doing the same on the other end in their homes to provide their lessons and sessions with such joy and commitment.”
Barham explained that this experience during the pandemic affirmed her belief that emotional and mental health support are crucial to children’s development.
“The positivity and normalcy provided by the continued work during such difficult times helped with the social, mental and emotional wellbeing of the children and their families,” she explained.
The Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, said Barham’s work with children during the pandemic stood out to him as especially compelling.
“Amira’s story of teaching children music during the pandemic is beautiful and the imagery of children on balconies and in hallways practicing their instruments is a lovely image,” Horton said. “Her interest in women and children’s concerns under occupation and her pride in being a Palestinian Christian will be so beneficial to the PC(USA).”
Barham hopes her travels will help her build “a network of friends” in the United States and encourage people to travel to Palestine to better understand the conflict.
She said she is hopeful because the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was “one of the first churches to acknowledge the Israeli government regime in Palestine as an apartheid regime, which shows your courage and commitment to truth, human rights and justice for all.”
Layton Williams Berkes, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Amira Barham, International Peacemaker
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
We all, Christians around the world, believe in the same message and are committed to living the Christian life, no matter where we are, no matter who we are. Amen.