13 Apr 2012 by Sami El–Yousef
After several months of endless waiting, uncertainty and waning hope, we were finally granted the permit to go to the Gaza Strip. Seven months have passed since our last visit in July 2011, as all our earlier efforts to get entry permits failed. It is still a mystery to me why they were not approved, but that is part of the challenge of doing business in the Holy Land; what is logical and makes sense anywhere else in the world does not make sense here.
Nevertheless, my colleague Gabi Kando and I were eager to get to Gaza to follow up on several ongoing projects, including the Pontifical Missions student sponsorship program for Christian students, and to launch our new project with four local institutions. This new project will provide hands–on training and short–term employment opportunities for hundreds of unemployed young Gazans who have very few prospects and who suffer from the current political situation and blockade.
We also had some surprising visits to new institutions, as well as other observations of the conditions inside the Gaza Strip.
New Projects — New Hopes
We officially launched our training and short–term employment opportunities project soon after we arrived in Gaza, by signing four agreements. Two are with the Near East Council of Churches, to train and offer employment for about 50 recent university graduates, in addition to employment for around 100 graduates with vocational training. The third agreement was signed with the Ahli Arab Hospital to provide training and employment opportunities to about 70 health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, as well as other administrative and support staff. The fourth agreement was signed with the Society of Women Graduates to provide training and employment to about 80 women graduates of various universities in Gaza. There was to be a fifth and final agreement with the Myrrh Bearers Society to set up an income generation tailoring factory that would also provide 10 permanent employment opportunities. For technical reasons — and as a result of the election of a new board at the time of our arrival — it was not possible to sign this agreement. This will be completed as soon as possible, however.
Needless to say, our presence in Gaza and the launch of this important project — thanks to the generous support from Caritas Switzerland, Caritas Luxembourg, Secoure Catholique/Caritas France, Misereor Germany and CNEWA Canada — brought a ray of hope to our Gaza partners, in a place where hope is very difficult to find. All those we met were encouraged and thankful that we continue to consider Gaza a priority and that they are not forgotten. Thus, I feel a great obligation to return as soon as possible to listen, encourage and bring hope.
Reflections and Observations
I cannot help but reflect on the many observations that I made as we drove through the crowded streets, spoke to many people and visited institutions both new and old.