In 1963 Susan Mayclin visited the Middle East as a student and was in Lebanon when John Kennedy was assassinated. She has been dreaming of peace in the area, and Montessori classes where children of all religions can grow up together.

In April 2011 she visited schools in the West Bank and in May, 2012 returned for the 3rd time, with her husband Jim, to give a Montessori birth-12 workshop.

in the Middle East!

Other Montessori Projects

A Montessori 0-3 overview written by Susan Mayclin Stephenson is available in Arabic: 0-3 Arabic.

Below you will find pictures, emails sent to friends and family in April, 2011, and pictures from the 2012 trip.

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Susan and Jim at Petra Petra Treasury Cames
Susan and Jim at the end of the siq at Petra in Jordan.
The Treasury barely visible.
The famous Treasury building, carved out of rock:
See more about Petra
Beautiful camels, on the desert and at Petra, covered with the lovely traditional woven saddles.

Buduin tents sunrise over the Dead Sea map of Tell es-Sultan
Bedouin tent in the vast and ancient land of Jordan, part of the Arabian Desert. Sunrise over the Dead Sea, and people from around the world soaking in its healing waters. As a Montessori 6-12 teacher I was thrilled to visit the Tell es-Sultan in the lowest and one of the oldest cities in the world, Jericho.

school is out Western Wall Armenian Orthodox
A common scene all over the Middle East—school is over for the day! Back in Jerusalem, the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock, a holy place for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and even Roman Pagans Everywhere we went, as at this Armenian Orthodox Church, religion was being celebrated. Why not peace?


Susan in Beit Jala Montessori Peace Symbol Susan painting on The Wall

Susan returns to the Middle East for the first time since 1963. This picture was taken in Beit Jala, an ancient Christian town in Palestine.

Montessori education has been a movement for peace for over 100 years, in many countries, for rich or poor, all religions and political leanings. The children will lead us.

Susan painted this reminder on The Wall after she visited the first Montessori school in Palestinian territories, and a poor village school and gave a talk on Montessori on TV.

Passover Menorahs and Creches in the Market Praying to Jesus
Passover was being celebrated all over the country. Here an Orthodox Jewish family waits for a bus to get home before sunset.

This is indeed a Holy City, Instead of the usual knickknacks for tourists the shops sell menorahs and creches, Russian icons and religious articles from many religions

Here at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem people from all over the world come to celebrate Easter, to pray and leave flowers at a wooden carving of Jesus.

St. George and the Dragon the Bahai center Ethiopians and others worshiping

St. George (El-Khader in Arabic) and the Dragon welcomes one to the Christian Palestinian Arabic city of Beit Jala

This is the World Center, in Haifa, Israel, a community well known for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.

People from all over the world, and all religions, gather to worship during Holy Week in and near Jerusalem.

Village children School posteer of the Koran Montessori class
I presented Montessori on Al-Quds ("al kootz") University TV station, and visited a village school Ras al-Wad where children are learning to read and write with the help of international volunteers from CCC,

A chart on the school wall teaches children the precepts of their own traditional Muslim religion, to worship One God, respect other religions, be truthful, take care of the poor, the kind of ethics found in all major religions.

One woman has begun a kind of "Montessori" (combined with workbooks, TV, group lessons) and is dedicated to eventually providing the best of Montessori to children in Ramallah

Bread in Jerusalem market Ancient olive trees Oranges and Pomegranates

Buying bread at the market or "souk" in the old narrow streets of East Jerusalem. This was truly a trip into the past for me.

Everywhere I went, in Israel and the West Bank, there were hundreds of years old olive groves. The best oil is still pressed in the traditional stone mill.

The delicious fruit in the area is a result of many years of work and experimentation by Palestinian farmers. They were later grown in the Israeli kibbutzim.

Middle Eastern spices Lebanese Food St. Peter's Fish

Such beautiful spices in the souk! I fell in love with lemony Za'atar and have ordered an Israeli version here at home. One dips bread in olive oil and then in the spice.

21 "salads' or dips were served to just the 2 of us (my guide for the day to see much of the country) for the first course in a Lebanese restaurant in Galilee.

. . . and the main course was "St. Peter's Fish" caught that morning in the Sea of Gallia, just as did Peter, Jesus' disciple and a "Fisher of men."

Love wins! "Wall" poster Wall Art

As we learned in Berlin, walls are not the answer. They just increase suspicion and fear that divide. In the meantime they at lease serve as a canvas for the thought of the people.

Roman Aquaducts The Sea of Galilee Rainbow

Ancient Roman aqueducts can be seen throughout the country. I took this picture at the small Mediterranean city of Caesarea, named after the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.

This is the beautiful Sea of Galilee, with the Golan Heights on the other side. It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world. My ears popped as we went down to it—700 feet BELOW sea level!

As we drove back along the eastern edge of Israel and the West Bank, we could see barbed wire edging no man's land pitted with land mines; but a beautiful rainbow appeared over Jordan to the East. I hope a sign for a better future.

Susan, April 2011, Beit Jala

In 1963 I was visiting the American University in Beirut, Lebanon when Kennedy was shot. Most of us who were old enough at the time remember where we were on this momentous occasion. But what I remember even more about being in that part of the world, was the beauty of the land and the feeling of spirituality that permeated everywhere we went in the Middle East. Worship by Christians, Jews, and Muslims was being carried out wherever we went. Five times a day for the Muslims, Friday night for the Jews, and Sunday morning for the Christians, but everyday by the tourists who came to witness this Holy Land.

Since then, having grown up and become an artist and educator, I have always wanted to return to this part of the world and help spread the work of Maria Montessori, an advocate for peace in every sense of the world, and to see this educational system bring together children of all religions in the formative time of their life.

Susan in Beit Jala

In the picture on the left I am standing in the garden of the old Palestinian family home of good friends. it is in the Christian city of Beit Jala, West Bank. We met in 1976 during the year of my Montessori elementary training, where we all lived at the International Student House in Washington, DC, with a unique group of international graduate students, including Israelis and Arabs from all over the Middle East. That year was an opportunity for real dialogue, the only path to peace.
This year I was able to return, to see people of all religions getting along, to hear their frustration at the misrepresentation in the media that presents people on both sides as terrorists, when really people just want peace.

I hope you have enjoyed the pictures above from this trip. Excerpts from emails sent home are below. I hope they inspire your curiosity.

In Peace,
Susan Mayclin Stephenson

April 20, 2011


Beit Jala is a Christian city—St. George the patron saint—near Jerusalem. Bethlehem is between these two cities. In 1963 I saw fields of sheep and ancient olive groves between Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Now it is almost a continuous city. I am not going to go into the political situation here because everywhere I work there are fights over land and religion and it is always the children who suffer and I am just fortunate to be able to help in small way.

As a college sophomore I traveled around the world on a semester of college on a ship. The first stop was Lisbon, Portugal which was very exotic for a young girl who had grown up in a small town in Indiana and had never been out of the country. Then on to Spain, France, Italy, Greece. Each was considered exotic. That was UNTIL we came to the Middle East! Seeing the people pray 5 times a day when the call to prayer chant was heard everywhere, the food, music, the clothing, the architecture. EVERYTHING UP TO THIS POINT melted into the same "Western" culture. Europe and the USA were the same and we had come to a new land.

I had the same experience in Amsterdam this week. I am used to the airport there but as I approached the El Al airline gates the Western feeling disappeared and was replaced by seriousness and men and women in uniforms with large guns held in front of their bodies. These were Israeli guards, some from Russia, some from Israel, some having been born and lived always in Holland. I was interrogated and examined for 2 hours. Everything I was carrying, even to the tiniest paper clip and Band-Aid, spread out on the table and gone over. I will not describe the body search. I had to take a flash picture with my camera and show pictures that I had taken with it. And after being asked the same list of questions by 4 different people, escorted personally to the plane.

But that was nothing to my arrival in Tel Aviv! At the passport station I was asked, as always, where i would be staying. I replied "in Beit Jala." Her eyes opened wide and the passport agent said "You know people in Beit Jala?!!!" then I was told to go to a small room and that my passport would be returned to me later. In that room over the next hour I was again asked questions. "What was my father's name" (I could answer that) then "What was his father's name?" ( all I could think of in my exhausted state was "Grandpa Mayclin" and the man looked shocked that I didn't know.) Family history and names are very important here.

Finally I was taken to another room and seated across the desk from a young Israeli man who asked me "Do you have any idea why you are sitting here?" The only thing I could think of was (1) it is holidays (Easter and Passover) and security might be tight? (No!) or the fact that the friends I am visiting are American-Palestinian? (no!) Finally I remembered that I had My host's phone number with me. The young man said "Good, that might speed up your case" and made the phone call. I do not know exactly what my friend said but I was immediately released after an apology.

Well, welcome to the Middle East Susan. I wouldn't have missed this experience for the world. Nothing could otherwise have helped me understand the fear and suspicion people of all kinds feel in a was zone. Now to help the children . . .

My friends here tell me that their heroes of old were like our early heroes, interested in learning. Like Abraham Lincoln who read in the night by candle light, those who didn't have electricity in their homes would go into the street in the evening and read under the street lamps. That has all changed, values have changed, and also like in our country, education is way down on the list of most political decision makers and everyone will suffer in the future if this is not changed.

Last night I met with the head of a university TV station and we arranged for me to explain Montessori on television. I was happy to be able to tell her that The Joyful Child (Montessori 0-3 overview) is already being translated into Arabic and soon Hebrew to spread to as many people as possible.

Today we visited the Ghirass Cultural Center and Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation in Bethlehem. Here is their website: http://ghirass.org/en/
There are many programs for the refugee children in the cities but not in the many villages. This NGO takes mobile libraries, a small selection of books and toys out into the villages to enrich their traditional Muslim education. The school is in a village that has been split by the Wall. Checkpoints cannot be passed through without permission and many times members of even the same family have been prevented from meeting for years.

The building was small with even smaller rooms and teaching done mostly by reciting the words, letters, etc. on the posters on walls. Very much like I have seen in Bhutan, India, and Thailand. We had a wonderful time because the children, Christians and Muslims, do not have much to do and were very happy to have visitors. Hundreds of time we heard the basic English sentences "What is your name?", "How old are you?" (Now many young people here know my name and that I am 67 years old).

The main woman who took us to the village works for a humanitarian organization in Germany and helped in a woman's shelter in Germany before coming here. She, like the Arabic teachers, was friendly, smart, welcoming, and quick to laugh.

Their work is to take English children's books, hula hoops, rhythm sticks, to 7 different villages, a "toy library" stock, and teach fun ways to learn English and to play group games, learning the skills involved in working together.

The house I am staying is an ancient traditional home that has been in the family for generations. There are tall domed ceilings that keep the rooms cool in the hot summer and circulate a small bit of warm air magically to keep the rooms warm in winter.

The stone patios overlook Bethlehem and the first night it was a glorious scene with the lights of the city, the sky bluing darkly against the full moon. The everyday food is of the kind one would find only in the best Middle Eastern restaurants at home. Yogurt made in Bethlehem, giant flat bread from a nearby village, olives and olive oil and lemons and limes from the family garden (juiced and frozen for the seasons, like now, when they are not in season.) The night is full of the smell of what I thought was jasmine but I think is roses. I am so happy to finally experience the life of my dear friends after so many years.

Everyone is preparing for Passover and Easter; yesterday rushing to the bakery before it closed for the holidays for the special cookies. One is made, very laboriously, in a design representing Jesus's crown of thorns, and the other in the shape of the sponge used to wipe the blood from his pierced side while he hung on the cross.

Happy Holidays everyone!

April 26, 2011


The Wall, which I thought was a few hundreds of feet long, is in several sections, miles and miles in length. Israelis cannot cross into the Palestinian side at checkpoints without permits (and cannot shop there no matter what, a restriction imposed by their own government) and Palestinians cannot cross without permits. However hundreds of people cross each day in areas away from the checkpoints. It seems an economic barrier more than anything else.

As always, everywhere we go my Christian Palestinian Arabic friends are constantly greeted by their Jewish Israeli friends, that is because we are mostly in the medical and the travel company world—a more educated population. The people could get along as they did in the beginning if the politics were not forcing them to compete for land and freedom. Enough said on that. Except that my dream of helping to create a school where Palestinian and Israeli children would learn together is not going to be possible for now since they cannot cross a checkpoint to get to the same school. At least for now . . .

My friends arranged a full day tour for me of the northern part of the country. This family has led Christian Holy Land tours of the Middle East for 3 generations. My friend is a history scholar, a Bible scholar, and here is their website in case you know of anyone wanting to visit the area: http://www.netours.com/

I traveled in a van all to myself, able to stop wherever I wanted, from 8am till 8pm. Here is bit of where we went. To the old Roman port of Caesarea to see the Roman aqueducts and the present day elite golf course and mansions. This is where the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lives when not in Jerusalem. There are flowers everywhere.

Then on to Haifa, where, because of a very intelligent and open minded mayor, the Arabs and Israelis live together in relative peace. This may also be because it is the city of the world center for the Baha'i religion which celebrates all religions equally. It is Good Friday and I was able to pray in several places, including the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery which is also in Haifa.

Then we turned east toward the Sea of Galilee. For lunch we stopped at a Lebanese restaurant where the appetizers consisted of 20 small dishes of a variety of salads and dips and two kinds of bread; the main course was "St. Peter's Fish" caught that day in the Sea of Galilee as in the past and continually till today.

Going south we reached the lowest point on earth and our ears popped going down, 700 feet BELOW sea level in the same way that they pop when we climb high above sea level. There we saw the tel (an archeological pile of one city built on top of another for thousands of years—as in James Michener's wonderful book The Source). Jericho, the city near the Dead Sea is considered the oldest inhabited city in the world today, 10,000 years old.

On the way home we drove very near the border for hours, seeing the Golan Heights and Jordan, the barbed wire fences and the no man's land with land mines between the Israel and Jordan. Then to Nazareth, and many other stops. What a way to spend Easter Week.

Here are some facebook postings and links from the last few days:

(April 23) Today, Holy Saturday before Easter, a flame magically appeared in the Church of the Resurrection, or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (we were there before the crowds) and then is spread throughout the orthodox Christian world, arriving even in Moscow the same day!

The sacred flame which is believed to be a miracle has appeared in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday every year over the past two thousand years. No one can explain the coming down of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem on Easter Eve. Every year thousands of pilgrims head for the Holy Land to see the miracle with their own eyes. As all Christians celebrate Easter on the same day, swarms of believers have been gathering by the Church of Holy Sepulcher since Holy Friday. All candles are put out in the church and at midday the belfry peals the start of the procession.

I stood for hours here in Beit Jala as the Catholic Boy and Girl scout groups prepared to march, to the sound of drums and Scottish bagpipes, to meet the fire as it approached this area. Little children and old ladies came with their candle lanterns to light them from the Holy Fire and take them back to their homes. There is even a race to see which of the small villages out in the country will get the fire first as the blessing of the year.

The Holy Fire is carried by plane to all of the temples of the Orthodox countries. The Holy Fire ceremony starts in the small hours of Holy Saturday morning and may take several hours. Believers are praying both inside the church, which holds 10,000 people, and outside. The coming of the sacred flame is met with greetings of joy as people congratulate one another on the miracle. For it is believed that the year the Holy Fire will not light the candle on the Sepulcher will herald the end of the world.

(April 24) Easter: Happy Easter to all from the Garden of Gethsemane.

This is indeed a Holy City, especially at this time of year. I have seen large groups of Ethiopians in long white dresses at all the Christian sites. Families of the most traditional Jews, the men wearing long twisted prayer locks and hats that look like old European top hats ready to fall from their heads, and sometimes wide black furry hats like black cats wrapped around the top of the head. with white prayer shawls hanging from their waists. There are groups of devout worshipers from several of the Arab areas, and the orthodox Christian countries, listed here. Orthodoxy.

Well, today is my last day in the Middle East. It has been an exhilarating, depressing, hopeful, challenging, enjoyable, joyful, emotional, educational, and confusing trip. Many of us in advanced years realize more and more how little we know or will ever know about the world. But nothing is more interesting than learning, trying to figure things out.

As far as Montessori work it has been pretty great. I traveled to Ramallah and created a half-hour television introduction to Montessori, speaking on all the things I have learned it is important to cover when introducing Montessori to a new place. I left Montessori pictures I carry with me on a thumb drive to use on the program.

Also they will dub the voiceover for the DVD The Wonderful Two's into Arabic and play it on TV DVD

The director of the station said his daughter was in a Montessori school, the first one in Palestinian Territories, near Ramallah, and so we made an appointment to visit on Easter morning before the family meal, when all Arabic schools are open. The woman, head of the school, an economist, has started a program for babies when she found nothing available that she would want for her own child. Later discovered Montessori so took a correspondence course. She realizes that this is just a beginning and looks forward (as many people who begin with correspondence courses) to attending a real Montessori training course someday.

Hopefully in the future there will be a real Montessori school here. It may be at the university, but if not my hosts have offered their beautiful old traditional home as a school, and offered to pay the tuition for two people to attend the AMI course in London next fall. My friends have always wanted to do all they can to bring peace to their country, and I think they are also inspired by the book Miral about a woman who started a school in her home many years ago. (now an excellent movie by the same name).

The most exciting Montessori work was yesterday when Carmen and I wrote a Montessori and Peace message on the WALL. All of the stores were closed so we had to use her tiny oil painting paints and small brushes and make a pretty small image, instead of the large one we had planned, but it is there!

Then we had lunch at the American Colony Hotel to celebrate our attempts to help children because this beautiful building is next to the school begun in Miral and mentioned in the book.

This morning at 4:30 the first call to prayer began as usual. But this time there were 5-6 men's voices, each from a different mosque, singing not quite in unison with a variety of timbres. I got up and looked out of the window, and just as the first day, saw the nights with the moon clear, and the lights of Bethlehem spread before me, the voices like a beautiful concert.

In this part of the world there is so much love of God, since the Moslems, the Jews, the Christians are all worshiping the same One God. So much tradition of trying to be good, to help the poor, to be honest, to not kill, to observe religious traditions. So 5 times a day at least there is peace.

So, Happy Easter, Passover, however you and your celebrate the coming of Spring and New Hope for the Future of Mankind.

A big THANK YOU to the Michael Olaf Montessori Company, now Michael Olaf Publishing Company, supporters of this kind of work for many years.
The Montessori Shop

Michael Olaf Main Page

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