25 August 2015
Children in in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, participate in a psychosocial program run by the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees of the Near East Council of Churches, funded in part by CNEWA. The program is designed to help the children cope better with stress caused by the 2014 war with Israel and the continuing hardship provoked by the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territory. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
A year after war tore apart Gaza, efforts are still underway to help heal the often invisible wounds, especially among children. CNS’s Dale Gavlak reports on one prime example, supported by CNEWA:
Catholic aid agencies having been using various counseling techniques, even a live clown and puppets, to help the Gaza Strip’s children overcome the trauma of lost loved ones and homes in the year since the cease-fire ended the conflict. But they warn that only a political solution can hope to remedy the increasingly desperate situation there.
“Almost everything we do as an international nongovernmental organization — and most peers would say the same — is like putting a Band-Aid on a pretty serious injury,” said Matthew McGarry, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.
McGarry and other aid officials told Catholic News Service that the long-festering conflict between Israel and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, has created a man-made humanitarian and psychosocial crisis that politics alone must solve.
“It’s cumulative. Children as young as 7 have lived through three wars in the past 7 years — that’s your lifetime,” McGarry told CNS of the psychological toll Gaza’s multiple wars have taken on its youngest residents.
The U.N. estimates that at least 370,000 children in Gaza need psychosocial support following last summer’s war, which cost the lives of more than 2,250 Palestinians, 65 percent of whom were civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians, it said, before the 26 August 2014, cease-fire was reached.
But Catholic aid officials who regularly assess assistance on the ground called the U.N. estimate “low.” McGarry and Sami El-Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said everyone in the war-torn strip is traumatized and needs psychosocial support.
Still, Gaza’s youngest appear to bear the hardest and most-lasting consequences of the seven-week conflict, according to findings by Save the Children, based in the United Kingdom.
Three-quarters of Gaza’s children experience unusual bed-wetting regularly, while 89 percent of parents said that their children suffer constant feelings of fear, reported a study issued by the group in July.
More than 70 percent of children worry that another war will break out. Seven out of 10 children interviewed now suffer regular nightmares.
For the past year, CRS, CNEWA and Caritas have worked with local partners to tackle these problems.
“The program we designed was to reach mainly children, but not exclusively,” El-Yousef told CNS. CNEWA’s psychosocial support became its biggest program to aid post-conflict Gaza, helping more than 20,000 at some 30 schools and other community spaces.
“Some recreational activities were involved, but others needed deep psychological follow-up with specialized counselors, including the transfer to institutions qualified to handle severe cases on a one-on-one basis which were detected during the intervention,” El Yousef said.
A combination of group and individual counseling, puppets, play and art therapy has begun to show some signs of lessening the trauma.
“I was talking with a mother the other day about her 10-year-old daughter, who had been wetting the bed every night and had to be put on anti-anxiety medication by her doctor,” McGarry said.
The girl was enrolled into one of 17 child-friendly spaces CRS has set up in Gaza’s towns hardest hit by the bombardment. There, children draw and paint, play games and talk about their feelings.
Although she still wets her bed from time to time, it’s no longer a nightly occurrence, the mother told McGarry. The doctor has also lowered the medication dosage because he said “she is clearly making some progress.”
The CRS country representative recounted another case of a 12-year-old boy who was acting out violently and being overly aggressive at home.
“He had to be coaxed a bit to come to the child-friendly space and didn’t participate at first. But in time he became more active,” McGarry said. “His mother says he is now gentler and less antagonistic with his siblings. This is what we are looking for.”
CRS introduced puppets for the first time in Gaza as a way to encourage children to express their feelings, work through the trauma and adopt nonviolent conflict resolution practices. So far, 3,000 children have participated in such programs, and more opportunities are planned for them next year.
Caritas Jerusalem has expanded its help beyond psychological staff visits to families and schools. From July until October, Marco Rodari, an Italian clown therapist, is helping healing hearts in Gaza.
Experienced in working with traumatized and sick children, Rodari has created a special program for Gaza’s children.
First, he develops a relationship with children through a comedy and magic show. Next, they become the clowns or magicians performing the tricks. The third aspect of the program will be the start of a “real school of magic” for the children.
Clown therapy enables the traumatized child to forget for a while the horrors experienced, to feel happy emotions and smile again, Rodari told Caritas.
Making theater brings out children’s emotions. While performing simple magic tricks, the child uses different parts of the body at the same time, thus activating several parts of the brain. Rodari said this promotes psychological healing and helps to replace “bad emotions and memories with happy, positive feelings and thoughts.”
24 August 2015
Tags: Children Gaza Strip/West Bank Relief
The Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra, Syria, a cultural landmark that has stood for nearly 2,000 years, was reportedly destroyed by ISIS. (photo: Wikipedia)
Reports this weekend indicate that the ruthless destruction of priceless antiquities by ISIS is continuing:
ISIS has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.
The Temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with ISIS’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. “Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.
After the ISIS captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.
“[ISIS] placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Agence France-Presse. “The [temple’s inner area] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed.”
21 August 2015
Tags: Syria ISIS Historical site/city
In this image from 2003, pensioner Lury Merkvilashvili, 79, savors his only daily meal, thanks to Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the plight of the elderly in post-Soviet Georgia, read Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans from the Summer 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Dima Chikvaidze)
20 August 2015
Tags: Georgia Caring for the Elderly Caritas Pensioners
Sister Imre Ágota begins the day behind her desk, planning. A Greek Catholic Basilian sister, she is working to restore the faith in Hungary after years of Communist domination and suppression. Read more about their ministry in A Sister’s Act from the June 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
19 August 2015
Tags: Sisters Eastern Europe Hungary Hungarian Greek Catholic
In this image from 2004, the Rev. Varghese Palathingal holds a young H.I.V. patient named Christy, who never leaves the priest’s side. (photo: K.L. Simon)
Several years ago, ONE took readers to a hospice in India offering care to AIDS patients:
The hospice was established in 2000 for patients with H.I.V. or AIDS, who were untreated or had been turned away by other medical facilities.
“We have had some 300 patients pass through here since we opened,” said the Rev. Varghese Palathingal, who runs the hospice named after the former Syro-Malabar Catholic Archbishop of Trichur, Mar Joseph Kundukulam. “We are the only facility of this kind in Kerala, perhaps in all of southern India.”
The AIDS epidemic in India is well-documented. The country has the second largest infected population in the world after South Africa. But for all practical purposes the country acts as if AIDS is not a serious social problem. Ignorance remains common among the public and even some supposed experts.
Hospitals and medical staff still routinely turn away patients. When their infection becomes known, people are pushed out of their homes by their communities, sometimes even by their own families.
Fear of dismissal or reprisal has forced most to keep their H.I.V. status secret at work and school. In addition, drugs that are immediately available in the West are out of reach due to cost. With nowhere to go, many of the infected take their own lives.
At the facility, the patients are glad to see Father Palathingal. His speech, touch and manner reveal real affection and concern. The children often swarm around him like some kind of off-season Santa Claus.
One child, Christy, grew so close to the priest that he now lives with him and the sisters at Pope Paul Mercy Home, a nearby facility for the mentally handicapped, also run by Father Palathingal.
Christy, an active 2-year-old who insists on going everywhere with the priest, was also at the center of a recent medical controversy. The boy was born H.I.V. positive and was abandoned by his parents. When his status turned negative at around 18 months, his health became the subject of public speculation.
Father Palathingal, the sisters and even some doctors credited the Ayurvedic treatment the boy received at the hospice for his negative status. Other medical professionals disagreed, saying such cases are rare but natural occurrences.
“During the first 18 months, a mother’s antibodies can remain in the child, without infecting him,” said Dr. Gopal Sankar, a young physician volunteering at Mar Kundukulam. “This may lead to H.I.V. tests coming back positive at first. Later, when the mother’s antibodies finally disappear from the child, the same tests will come out negative.”
Read more in “Hoping Against Hope” from the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
18 August 2015
Israeli authorities uproot olive trees to build the separation wall near Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank on 17 August 2015. To learn more about the controversy surrounding the wall — and the people whose lives will be impacted by it — check out this post.
(photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
17 August 2015
Children attend a class in traditional Arab dance at the Centro Social Hondureño árabe.
(photo: Carina Wint)
Some might be surprised to learn there’s a thriving Arab population in the heart of Central America. We explored some of that phenomenon in 2006:
The Centro Social Hondureño árabe is Honduras’s largest and most opulent country club, boasting tennis courts, a fitness center, sushi bar, disco and other luxuries rare in this country that is one of the poorest in the hemisphere. But for all its glitter, the club’s chief distinction, suggested by its name, is that it was founded by and primarily for the country’s small but prosperous Arab-Honduran community.
“The community has always looked for forums to socialize, to maintain our bond, and this club is a consummation of that feeling,” said Lidia Abouid, the club’s supervisor.
On a recent summer day, only a couple of miles from the urban din of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s city of industry, scores of children could be found paddling in an Olympic-sized pool, cooling off after a morning of tennis and racquetball. The voice of the Lebanese chanteuse Fayrouz wafted over the grounds as the staff tidied the club’s three banquet halls: the Palestine, the Jerusalem and the Bethlehem.
Today, there are as many as 220,000 Arab-Hondurans. While they represent only 3 percent of the total population of 7.3 million people, they have had an outsized influence on the nation. They are most visible in business and only slightly less so in politics. Centro Social’s president, Juan Canahuati, a textile magnate with numerous other entrepreneurial activities, is considered the country’s top businessman. Coffee exporter and former Industry and Commerce Minister Oscar Kafati’s ancestors immigrated to Honduras in the late 19th century from Beit Jala, a Christian town adjacent to Bethlehem. Former President Carlos Flores Facusse’s mother came from Bethlehem.
Arab immigration to Latin America is not unique to Honduras nor are such success stories. To take just two prominent examples: former Argentine President Carlos Ménem (1989-1999) traces his roots to Syria; Mexico’s telecommunications titan, Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s third richest man, is of Lebanese descent.
Nearly all Arab-Hondurans claim Christian Palestinian origins, making the Arab-Honduran experience unique. Proportionally, there are more people of Palestinian descent in Honduras than any other Latin American country.
Arab Palestinians first came to Honduras in the 19th century, but the largest waves arrived after 1896, the year the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which then controlled
Palestine, first allowed emigration. Numerous factors motivated the early emigrants. In 1909, the Ottomans included in the military draft Christians and Jews, who were once forbidden to serve, but required to pay tribute instead. Economic incentives also drove Arabs abroad. Tourism and commerce, areas in which many Christians worked, declined during World War I. And increasingly Palestine’s Arab Christians found themselves competing with the growing Jewish population, largely secular Zionist immigrants from Europe, in their entrepreneurial activities. Just as today, there seemed to be more opportunities for enterprising Arabs abroad.
Read more about “Middle Eastern, Central American Style” in the September 2006 edition of ONE.
14 August 2015
Ethiopian children gather on a rural hillside. For a look at some of the rich and diverse traditions of the country and its people, read “Behold the Ethiopian” in the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
13 August 2015
Some of the 78 children who took part in the 2015 Bethlehem Summer Camp, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Library, pause for a picture during a walking tour of Bethlehem. The camp’s theme — “Our Heritage, Our Identity” — gave both Muslim and Christian participants a chance to discover more about Palestinian culture. To learn more, read the camp newsletter.
12 August 2015
A worker fastens a new cross to the bell tower of St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Hanover, Germany. Learn more about Germany’s Orthodox Serbs in this feature from the July 2009
edition of ONE. (photo: Andy Spyra)