A dying woman whom the Society served summoned Mrs. Siksek to her bedside, and told her she was leaving her son and daughter (both adult paralytics) in her care. Mrs. Siksek told her committee the need to establish a nursing home was urgent. Committee members said they didn’t have the resources for such an enterprise, and declined. Mrs. Siksek then, acting solely in the faith that this was the Lord’s work and He would provide, enlisted the aid of other women and the support of the Vice-Mayor of Jerusalem and opened the Invalids’ Home with two beds with old bedsteads and covers--in a rented room in Beit Sahour where rents were cheaper than in Jerusalem. This was the first nursing home in Palestine!
The work grew quickly. By the end of the first year, there were 16 patients, including two who were literally abandoned on the roadside to die. The Invalids’ Home moved to Bethlehem, then to Beit Jala to meet the ever-expanding need. Soon patients were jammed into basements, a garage, and five (often leaky) tents set up on the path between the Invalids’ Home and the Maternity Home.
During and after the Nakba (1947-48), refugee mothers came to the Invalids’ Home to bear their children. In 1950, in a small building next door to the Invalids’ Home, Katherine Siksek established St. Mary’s Maternity Hospital with ten beds, the first maternity hospital ever that close to Bethlehem.
Appalled by the sight of handicapped children carried in the large baskets used for transporting bread to street corners where they spent the days exploited as beggars, Katherine Siksek began the St. Mary’s Home for Crippled Children. In a small house across the road from the Invalids’ Home, she cared for 20 children with twisted bodies, and generally, limited minds.
In 1960, confronted with a unending number of children under the age of six whose mothers, ill, divorced or dead, could not care for them, she established St. Mary’s Home for Waifs and Strays, known as The Hadaneh, or refuge for twenty of these youngsters until they could enter boarding school.
To support the work, Katherine Siksek “spent 30 minutes on my knees every morning telling God what I need, and the rest of the day making do with what He sends." She and her Committee went door to door, uphill and downhill, seeking donations. Each year, she published the list of donors and the accounts. In addition, she established a workroom in the Praetorium (prison of Christ) where young women were taught to press flowers and make cards using the dried flowers. The proceeds from the sale of the cards helped the young women to provide for their families, and meet some of the needs of the Homes.
In the spring of 1961, to her surprise and delight, while listening to the car radio, Katherine Siksek learned that his majesty, King Hussein of Jordan, had awarded her a prize for running the outstanding charitable institution in his kingdom. She had made no application! She requested, and received a piece of land 12 dunum (3 acres) in size on a barren hilltop in Bethany. Just below the hill was a camp of the Jordanian army. This, she proclaimed, was "God’s deliverance from these high rents we have paid these many years. Here would rise the new Four Homes of Mercy to be a haven to all in need.”
Stone by stone, prayer by prayer, the building rose. The dedication of the first part of the building (for the Invalids) occurred on (date) 1966. The day before her return to England, Deaconess Evelyn Morris of England, who discovered Katherine and her work in 1960 when she came seeking flower cards, raised most of the money literally from the widow’s mites of England. She came to the dedication, and inquired why the symbol of the cross and the crescent were not atop the building as they were in the house in Beit Jala. Katherine explained there was no money. The Deaconess, however, was insistent, so somehow, money was found and the huge symbol painted on the roof.
Explaining, “we are Christians and we are Arabs,” Mrs. Siksek ignored the demand of the municipality that there be but one symbol. During the 1967 war, fighter jets of both Israel and Jordan flew over the building. Had both symbols not been so visible, the place would have been bombed by one side or the other.
During the war, neighboring women came to the Invalids’ Home and collected flour and yeast, baked bread in their own ovens, and brought it to the Homes. Residents were kept alive on bread and sugar water. No vegetables were available for four weeks, no meat for six, no doctor for three weeks. Many of the staff fled. Others, lacking transport, walked 10 miles each day to come to work. The water pipes were broken, making the residents dependent on cisterns. Later, water was tanked in by UNRWA. Marlyn Schultz, a nurse for Swiss Movement for Peace, stayed and coped and even managed miracles: Securing transport for patients needing to go to a distant hospital, and other necessities. The man in charge was a 16 year old boy, Tony Hanania who ignored the weapon fire and climbed the hill to assist. Local people lost the ability to give. No one bought flower cards.
To save on rent, Mrs. Siksek brought the rest of the residents—handicapped children and foster children - to Bethany. The foster children, under the care of Marlyn Schultz and Diet Koster from Swiss Movement for Peace, shared a small house a kilometer from the Homes. The handicapped children, like the invalids, shared the main building - each room filled to capacity with beds.
St. Mary’s Maternity Hospital remained in Beit Jala and continued to serve the poorest of the poor who lived in Beit Jala and the surrounding villages.
The building was finally completed with the aid of people locally and from around the globe, individuals and organizations such as Bread for the World, who built the Hadaneh section, and Miss Maya Tjellstrom, a nurse who learned of the work at Katherine Siksek’s funeral and marshalled Swedish involvement and resources to build the handicapped children’s portion.
As always, responding to the needs of the community and the nation, confronted with an acute lack of practical nurses because so many had fled in 1976, the Homes began a nurse training program. In exchange for a year’s commitment at the Homes, post-training, the young men and women developed the skills necessary to become practical nurses. After their year of service, nearly all of the 201 graduates found work in other institutions at far higher salaries. A few chose to remain with the ministry of the Homes.
Today, again responding to the needs of the region, the Homes focuses its resources on caring for the neurologically impaired — whether the source of the impairment was a car accident, a medical condition such as stroke, or birth defect. For each of the 77 residents, now ranging in age from 4 to 96, the Homes provides specialized treatment including, as applicable, physical, occupational and recreational therapy. For most of the residents, the Homes is their home. Some have lived here for decades. Whenever possible, the Homes fosters and supports the residents’ continuing ties and visits to their family whenever possible.
For many challenged individuals in the outlying communities, the Homes provides assessments, training of family members of how best to care for their family member at home, and physical and occupational therapy.
For the next generation of Palestinian professionals in physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing, working together with Bethlehem and Al-Quds Universities, the Homes now provides on-site training and experience.
Katherine Siksek’s vision of service continues in ever-widening ways, implemented by those of many skills and nationalities. We invite you to join us!