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Throughout Conflict, Relief Organization Responds

Throughout Conflict, Relief Organization Responds

By Sonia Nettnin

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund established itself during the first intifada (uprising). The organization formed in response to the urgent needs of Palestinian children caught in the gunfire of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

PCRF’s 2003 annual report outlines their humanitarian relief. Regardless of political positions, the report reveals insightful facts about the effects of warfare.

Steve Sosebee, PCRF’s president and CEO explained what doctors say after they spend time with the people. He said: “They were shocked by the humiliation and oppression that the Palestinians have to endure…they admire and respect the Palestinians for their hospitality and courage…they appreciate that the PCRF took good care of them and gave them a chance to help.”

He added that most of the teams sent have gone in the past, which says a lot about the reaction they have from their work there.

In February 2003, PCRF facilitated the medical treatment of 46 children and adults. Over six days, plastic surgeons and nurses from Bergamo, Italy performed reconstructive surgery in Khan Younis, Gaza. Many children suffered from burns and several children endured gunshot injuries. Almost half of the children live in Rafah, Gaza.

When asked if PCRF would initiate any humanitarian relief for Rafah after Israel’s Operation Rainbow, Sosebee said: “We have already several injured youths who we are preparing to send for treatment, and also we are doing a powder milk distribution this week there.”

Treatment and development is instrumental in the organization. In January and May of 2003, Dr. Alan Kerr, the former chief of cardiac surgery at Greenlane Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand provided the local cardiac team in Gaza with training. Kerr performed 18 cardiac surgeries at Shifa Hospital. Moreover, the development of a pediatric cardiac surgery program in Palestine continues treatment of patients with heart disease.

In March 2004, a nine-member team from Auckland performed open-heart surgery on babies with congenital heart disease at Shifa. Surgeries occurred during the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The team spent a week at Makassed Hospital, East Jerusalem led by Kerr, who worked there for over a month.

PCRF cosponsored a training fellowship for the main pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Gaza Strip. Dr. Ala’ El Sheik developed his work in spine surgery on children. In 2003, PCRF facilitated the treatment of two children with gunshots to the spine.

Despite attacks of civilians by Apache helicopters in Gaza, a team of pediatric surgeons and nurses performed open-heart surgery for seven children. The team worked 16-hour days in Shifa Hospital.

“We have sent dozens of medical missions there and they are all safe and well
taken care of,” Sosebee said. “The local population need this help and appreciate it, and we ensure that the missions are highly professional and taken care of. We cover all expenses and just need their medical expertise.”

A team of American doctors brought tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies with them when they worked at Makassed Hospital. Dr. Daniel Cohen, a pediatric cardiac surgeon, led the team. They treated babies with congenital heart disease.

The rehabilitation of children with disabilities plays a vital role in the organization. In July 2003, Kiwi occupational therapist Annie Keiser of New Zealand worked at Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Gaza City. The center serves 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

In North America, children with shrapnel injuries, burns and gunshot-related injuries received treatment. During their stay, 35 children lived with families who volunteered their home and their time. Families contacted PCRF and expressed their interest in sponsorship. Sosebee added that volunteers are needed in the major metropolitan areas.

In response to a USAID report about the malnourishment of Palestinian children who live in the Gaza Strip, PCRF coordinated a powder milk distribution for poor children. The report states: “there is a 24 per cent increase of malnourishment in children.” According to PCRF, the report’s findings are a result of “…harsh economic and political conditions imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities in Gaza” (38).

PCRF continues its efforts in the development of a pediatric cardiac surgery program in Palestine. In late March, the International Palestine Cardiac Relief Organization held its second annual conference in Bergamo, Italy.


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