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Gaza Situation Update: Gaza Visit 7-9 December 2015

Holy Family Latin Parish
Father Mario da Silva gave us a briefing regarding the continuing challenges facing the Christian community in Gaza.

A meeting with 4 of the 5 participants in the Latin Parish 2-year job creation program was most encouraging. The employment project has turned their lives around and given them a new lease on life.

A field visit of the Latin convent premises followed, where a major restoration project is ongoing. The Parish Hall renovated and equipped by CNEWA — Pontifical Mission includes a library, a gymnasium, and a kitchen to support the activities of the parish.

Rosary Sisters School
The security system has been installed to provide a safer environment for the students and teachers, and to protect the complex.

The administration gave a briefing about the progress of the school which is continuously expanding, now reaching close to 900 students.

Women’s Graduates Society
The administration briefed us about the psychosocial project that was just completed which lasted for one year after the war. Tens of schools and kindergartens were involved, and thousands of students were served during the year, while dozens of women graduates were employed and earned a dignified income.

Brotherhood Park
Renovations and re-equipping this park at Shate’ Refugee Camp — a park established by the Doty Family in the U.S., which is continuously supporting its upkeep — is underway and is expected to be completed in about two months.

Meeting with the Catholic School Principals
A joint meeting took place with the three Catholic school principals (Holy Family School, Latin Patriarchate School, and the Rosary Sisters School) to discuss how to support the local community in Gaza through the schools. After lengthy discussions, we agreed that we will concentrate our efforts in the coming year in three major areas:

  • Establish a Tawjihi literary stream at one or more of the Catholic Schools, hopefully starting in September 2016.
  • Support the development of a training program for the teachers of the catechism classes to develop their skills.
  • Work through the parish to strengthen the Sunday school program and expand the catechism program, targeting those Christian students who are enrolled in non-Christian schools in Gaza.

Meeting with the Scholarship Program Students
The Christian student’s scholarship program which started in 2010 has been expanded to provide 22 scholarships starting in the Fall 2015. A meeting took place where 20 of the students were in attendance, along with some of their parents. An open exchange took place about life in the Christian community in Gaza, focusing on their aspirations and ongoing challenges. While there was general agreement that life in Gaza is very difficult indeed, these brave souls were looking for ways to enhance their lives. A critical and urgent priority is the need to support job creation programs or income generation projects. Thus job creation projects for young Christians should continue to be on top of our priority list into the near future. On a very positive note, eight of the students from this scholarship program have already graduated; seven of them remained and are all working — some through our job creation initiatives — while one emigrated. This has been an excellent track record so far.

This truly has been one of the most uplifting visits to Gaza in a very long time. In terms of the Christian institutions, many continue to expand their premises or renovate existing space in order to enhance their services. As I said on many occasions before, these are thriving institutions with big plans for the future. They are there to stay.

As far as the Christian community is concerned, I came back with mixed feelings. There continues to be a number of Christians (and many Muslims) who do not see much hope for a better life in Gaza in the foreseeable future and continue to talk about emigration. However, there are also strong voices — especially among youth — saying that if the tools of survival are provided, then there is no reason to leave. They are proud to call themselves Palestinian and Christian and genuinely wish to remain. Our challenge is not to disappoint them, and work to provide them with support to ensure that they stay. Thus, programs like supporting the Christian institutions, scholarship support, and job creation programs are a must for our future planning.

In conclusion, I cannot be happier than the results of our work in Gaza for the past few years. Christian service institutions are working more closely than at any other time in the past. The Christian institutions are also expanding and offering better services and programs that aim to integrate the Christian community into the society. Despite all the odds and challenges, these are very encouraging signs for the future.

Let us all collectively continue to support Gaza and its people — and more importantly keep them in our prayers so that they do not lose their faith and hope.

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