Gaza schoolchildren pause among their war-damaged school-buildings.
Photo by DSPR
by David Tereshchuk *
September 3, 2013—In the narrow and desperately overcrowded 140-square miles of Gaza, everyday life goes on in a kind of perpetual emergency, whatever the discussions of the territory’s status in international corridors of power.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is supporting a program that will help the children of that perilous territory to enjoy fuller and more stable lives.
Through an UMCOR grant to the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) of the Middle East Council of Churches (which, like UMCOR, is a member of ACT Alliance, an international coalition of churches and related organizations), three children’s summer camps have been set up, and recreational trips have been organized for young people.
Both children and mothers have opportunities to take their minds off Gaza’s ongoing crises, and the children can simply have fun as they participate in the camp activities and trips. In the end, some 600 children and 10,000 women will benefit from the program, whose broad purpose is to counteract in simple ways what the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has called the “protracted crisis of human dignity” that Gaza suffers.
The seriousness of Gaza’s social deprivation has worsened since Israel’s military operation there late last year. According to the World Health Organization, 163 Palestinians were killed during that conflict. An estimated 1,300 people were wounded, including 431 children. Many buildings were destroyed, and thousands of people were displaced from their homes—for many it was not the first time.
Much of that material damage remains unrepaired—and social upheaval continues, not least in the form of perpetual electricity blackouts and the general impact of Israel’s blockade against the territory. Since this worsening of conditions, much of DSPR’s psychosocial work has consisted of debriefing and individual and group counseling activities.
This boost for mental and emotional well-being is being offered through the network of Health Centers that DSPR operates. UMCOR’s funding is going to some clearly visible provisions (such as play-related items, from camp tents to toys and cheery T-shirts and hats). It also is being used to ensure skillful staff training for the essential counseling element of the mission.
With an eye to the future, slightly older Palestinian youth, above camp-attending age, are also being trained in helpful vocational skills.
At the heart of the work is a whole effort to influence lives for the better at as early a point as possible.
UMCOR Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response the Rev. Jack Amick says: “Where adults have been in conflict for a long time, working with future adults may be one of the best means of disaster prevention. Maintaining the open-mindedness of children is sometimes easier than opening the minds of some adults.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help families in Gaza and elsewhere whose lives have been severely disrupted by human-caused or natural disasters.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to UMCOR.org