UNRWA Celebrates International Women’s Day:
The Legacy of Hind al-Husseini
One cold day in April 1948, 31-year-old Hind al-Husseini happened upon a group of 55 young children outside the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem’s Old City. They had been dumped in the Old City and wandered near the church after having survived – and been orphaned by – a massacre in their village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Deir Yassin, by members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang.
Hind rescued the children immediately, bringing them to two rooms she rented for them nearby. Every day, Hind would visit the children with food and spend time with them. She soon brought them to the Sahyoun convent on the Via Dolorosa, following conversations with the head of the convent, who was worried about Hind’s safety en route to visiting the children in their two rooms. Palestine was in the midst of a war, and the Old City of Jerusalem was not spared from attacks. Indeed, shortly after Hind removed the children from the two rooms she had rented, those very rooms were bombed. So, within ten days, the children had narrowly escaped death – first at their homes in Deir Yassin, and then in the Old City.
After the first ceasefire, Hind brought all 55 children – mostly all under the age of nine – from the convent to her family home, a mansion built by her grandfather in Jerusalem in 1891. Hind had been born there on April 25, 1916. On her 32nd birthday, just two weeks after the massacre of Deir Yassin, she renamed the house the Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi (Arab Children’s House), founding it as an orphanage for the young survivors. ‘It was the worst of times,’ she recalled, adding, ‘It was the end of the mandate.’ (1)
Hind created the Dar Al-Tifl foundation to raise money from all over the world to fund and expand the school and its enrollment over the years. In 1949 and in the early 1950s, other orphans from cities and villages including Jaffa, Betunya, Hebron, Qalqilya, Ramle, Jerusalem, Arrabe, Gaza and Lifta joined the school. After 1967, the school accepted only girls, with the exception of pre-school and kindergarten, as well as boarding students until the age of six.
As Hind was of the conviction that women had a right to ‘proper education’(2), she founded the Hind Al-Husseini College for Women in 1982 as a branch of Al Quds (Jerusalem) University.
By 1995, Dar Al-Tifl had some 300 orphans. However, that number would halve following closure in the Gaza Strip, to where the orphans from there had to return, and increasingly within the West Bank. Hence, the number of orphans attending the school has dwindled every year. Today, the school has 35 orphaned girls, out of some 2000 students who attend preschool to 12th grades there, including boarding students. Dar Al-Tifl has also expanded to include a museum and a cultural center.
A social worker, educator, coordinator of the Arab Women’s Union in the 1940s and Palestinian National Council member, Hind dedicated her life to orphans until her death, even adopting several children who were left at the door of the school as babies. Also, two girls were brought to Dar Al-Tifl from a Jewish woman, who said they had not been accepted in any schools. Hind took them in and they attended the school.
Mahira Dajani, a life-long educator and the President of the Board of Trustees of Dar Al-Tifl since 1995, has the utmost respect and admiration for Hind. "She is our hero. We should find more ladies who can do what she did – to devote themselves to children. These days many people don’t like volunteer work. We want to encourage people to work as volunteers," she said.
Indeed, Hind’s great deeds did not go unnoticed. She was awarded the Jordan Globe Medallion for social work in 1983 and the Jordan Globe Medallion for education in 1985. Hind also received the First Degree Medallion by the German government in 1989, five years before she passed away.
However, Hind Al-Husseini’s legacy is not measured by accolades, but by the young lives she saved that fateful day in April and the young lives she has touched years since.
This article is part of "UNRWA Commemorates 1948," in which UNRWA is revisiting events and experiences of Palestinians from all walks of life before the war of 1948.
1. Quoted in: Ellen L. Fleischmann. The Nation and Its "New" Women: The Palestinian Women's Movement, 1920–1948. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 2003. 202. Interview by the author.
2. Fleischmann, 43.