Riad Abu Saadah holds a small yellow-green bird in his hand. Sitting in a circle around him, schoolchildren from around Beit Jala, Palestine, crane their necks to see it.
A bird is never just a bird; "there is a name for every bird," he said, gently cradling the green finch. "This is a sifri."
The children have come to the Evangelical Lutheran Church Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala to learn about Palestinian natural heritage. Situated on the rolling green hills of the Talitha Kumi Lutheran School, the center is an oasis of green. Its pine trees and local plants are a welcome respite from what most of the children encounter daily — a crowded urban environment of cement, asphalt, roadside pollution and checkpoints.
As they watch, Abu Saadah places a ring around one of the bird's delicate legs.
"On this ring there is a number and code for Palestine. It's like a passport," he said, explaining how this helps track migratory patterns. "If we catch a bird, ring it and set it free, we can follow where it goes."
A bird netted here and released was caught, one month later, at a bird center in Poland, he added.
Some of the children burst with excitement, eager to hold the finch in their hand when he asks for a volunteer to set it free. Others cringe, unaccustomed to being near a wild bird.
"I like it so much," said Marcella Abu Koua, 12. "It's so soft and small, like a baby."
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers