Nuha Khoury has a dream. She hopes to one day see all of her graduates own and operate their own jewelry stores, restaurants or film companies. Khoury is the vice president for academic affairs at Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts & Culture, the first college in the West Bank to provide specialized programs in the performing and visual arts.

The name itself means “House of the World,” and Khoury and staff are working to make that a reality.

Located in Bethlehem, the Christian school opened its doors in 2006 with only three administrators, 22 students and two programs — documentary filmmaking and glass/ceramics. Organizers wanted to provide students with quality education that met the economic, social, cultural and spiritual needs of Palestine. With an unemployment rate of approximately 38 percent among college-age Palestinians, Khoury wanted Dar al-Kalima to equip students with the ability to forge their own careers.

With approximately 250 students enrolled now, school administrators are working to increase the student population. The school has adopted a selective policy, giving students the opportunity to see how they fit in a particular program. If it doesn’t work out, they can transfer to another program or leave the school altogether.

A delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently visited Dar al-Kalima as part of a trip to the Middle East. The group met with school leaders and toured facilities, including a dance studio, full-service kitchen for the culinary arts program and production studio for its filmmaking projects. The school offers associate degrees in nine areas of study as well as two four-year bachelor programs. 

Administrators are proud of their graduates’ achievements. Some of the school’s film students have started their own production studios or have become freelancers working for businesses in and around Bethlehem. Two graduates opened their own ceramics shop. 

“One of our culinary graduates told us he was washing dishes before he came here. Now he is the half owner of a restaurant and preparing to open a second one,” said Khoury. “If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you can grow a business.”

But Khoury stresses that Dar al-Kalima is more than just a career training center. The school wants to preserve and revive traditional Palestinian culture and create a forum where young Palestinians can study with people of other backgrounds and promote tolerance and respect for differences.

“Students come from refugee camps across the region. Some young men come here, never having seen a girl in this setting, and it is a cultural shock,” Khoury said. “We help change their perspective, accept differences and change the way young men should look at women.

“We want people to see the beautiful side of Palestine, the cultural side,” she said. “Land comes and goes, but the identity and culture of its people will continue to exist.”