2013 was an exciting year for us. A year of learning, and of growth.
In January, we existed solely to financially support and raise awareness of the work of the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children in East Jerusalem. For nearly 50 years now, they have been seeking the empowerment of children with disabilities, by providing inclusive education, training courses for parents, and rehabilitation services. We have a close relationship with them, we believe strongly in their work and we will continue to support them.
However, from our various visits to Palestine, and from building relationships with those who have devoted their lives to improving the status of disability in Palestine, we have become aware of so many other dire needs for children with physical and mental disabilities in the region. Fortunately, where these needs exist, there exist wonderful projects that strive to meet them.
Two of these projects struck us in particular, and in 2013 we began to support them. It is no coincidence that both are in the Gaza Strip.
Just 25 miles long and 6 miles wide, the Gaza Strip is home to more than 1.5 million Palestinians. Since 2007 it has been the subject of a blockade by Israel. This means that there are very heavy restrictions placed on the movement of both people and goods over its border. For example, many Gazans are frequently refused permits to visit Israel or the West Bank – in 2012 nearly 40,000 Palestinian patients, companions and visitors did not make it to the hospitals they were referred to because their permits were denied.
People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in this context.
The first project we have supported is the Al Jazeera Centre for Disabled Athletes. At the end of 2012, their gym facilities were almost entirely destroyed by an Israeli missile strike, which was targetting a bank that used the same building. Without their gymnasium, the club cannot help build confidence and empowerment of people with disabilities. As of yet, they have not been able to rebuild their facilities. We have funded the rental of alternative facilities, until this rebuilding can take place.
The second project is called the Gaza Community Mental Health Project, or GCMHP. The blockade, and continued conflict with Israel, can exacerbate a person’s disability. However, it is also the causeof many debilitating, mental health problems. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this trauma, and GCMHP work to mitigate these effects. They work in schools and communities to provide psychosocial and rehabilitative programmes, to help children cope with what they have witnessed, whether this be missile strikes, the constant noise of drones that bring a continued threat of more violence, incursions in which armed soldiers enter people’s homes at night, or curfews that prevent them leaving their houses. We began providing funds to GCMHP in 2013, and we’re excited about building upon this support in 2014.