CNEWA Canada

Moving Forward Hand-in-Hand with Gaza’s Christian Community

By Sami El-Yousef

My colleague and I visited Gaza to attend the presentation highlighting the key results of the
Christian Community Survey, conducted by YMCA — Gaza and in collaboration with Gaza’s
Christian institutions who worked hand in hand to plan, design, and implement the survey.

The purpose of the survey was raised in June 2013 when
the PMP held a roundtable discussion on how best Gaza’s Christian institutions can better coordinate and collaborate internally on initiatives and projects in
addition to presenting a tangible document for donor
agencies that identifies the Christian community’s needs, possible funding strategies in collaboration with the
Christian institutions to strengthen the Christian presence
there. PMP together with Embrace the Middle East
funded the survey.

The 1st day of the presentation of the survey’s key
findings was attended by over 200 people including the
main partners, key representatives of the Christian
institutions as well as a number of guests representing the
Catholic Coordination Committee in Jerusalem.

Brief summary of survey results:
Christians are a minority group in Gaza, having very
small households compared to Gaza’s population at
large, with a total of 390 Christian households (1,313
people) and steadily declining. Gaza Christians mainly
live as one community in Gaza Governorate and
according to the survey; a majority are described as
middle-aged, female adults (93.9 males per 100
females), Greek Orthodox (89%), employed in the labor
force (40%) and are 1948 refugees (54%).

Gaza Christians are very well educated where 40 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree and 6 percent have earned a post-graduate degree (MA and Ph.D.). Since priority in education is high, this preference has prolonged the age of first marriage and starting a family (29 years old for
males and 21 years old for females), which has affected Christians’ already average small household sizes (of only 3.8 individuals per household) in stark contrast to the general population. Over half (54 percent) of all young Gaza Christians (below the age of 18 years old) attend private Christian schools while the remainder are enrolled at either public schools or UNRWA schools.

Over a quarter of the Christian population are considered needy and poor with some 34 percent with no income to cover basic living costs. Some 34 percent of Gaza Christians do not have any health insurance coverage; 16 percent suffer from chronic diseases and 2 percent are intellectually or physically challenged.

The 2nd- day of the workshop was designed to have a more in-depth discussion about the results of the survey and develop a plan in collaboration with the Christian institutions. Each Christian institution gave a presentation about their work, areas of expertise, the challenges they face, as well as the future prospects.

  • Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA — Gaza) — has 1,050 members including
    395 general assembly members which offers mostly youth-oriented activities.
  • Greek Orthodox Church Trustees Committee ?15 member-committee entrusted by the Greek Orthodox Church to care for the properties of the Church and currently oversees the construction of the Cultural Center which is nearing completion. The Center will have a large banquet hall and auditorium.
  • Al-Ahli Arab Hospital — the oldest hospital in Gaza with 80 beds, established in 1882 (Anglican Church) and currently has 90 employees that serve 33,000 people annually.
  • Near East Council of Churches — comprising of the three mother and child clinics(Shajaia, Darraj, and Rafah) as well as vocational training centers (electrical, carpentry, blacksmith, and aluminum works targeting male students and administrative secretary, and tailoring targeting women students) in addition to other health, educational and psychosocial programs. NECC employs a total of 86 people and serves tens of thousands annually.
  • Myrrh Bearers Society — a voluntary organization with one part-time paid staff member; it implements a variety of programs providing financial aid, training courses, some job creation initiatives, and youth activities among others. The society was set up in 2002 under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Church.
  • The 5 co-educational Christian Schools -The Latin Patriarchate School (up to 10th grade); The Holy Family School (High School — Tawjihi); The Rosary Sisters School (up to 10th grade); The Greek Orthodox School (up to 10th grade); and the Lighthouse School (up to 6th grade), serves over 3,000 students and employs close to 200 people in various teaching, administrative and support positions.
  • Youth group — presentation focused on the status of Gaza’s Christian youth, their frustrations, and aspirations and the need to focus on more employment and job creation opportunities; housing; education and better communication strategies with other Christian communities in Palestine.

Researcher Dr. Bishara Al-Khoury made a presentation
entitled “Strengthening the opportunities for Gaza’s Christian youth through capacity building and training’. A group discussion followed thereafter, where general problems affecting the community were identified including the occupation and blockade, religious/sectarian tension between Christians and Muslims, Christian identity and lack of support from the Church and
international community, the high cost of living and lack
of employment opportunities, and recommendations on
how to move forward.

The YMCA along with the main Christian institutions
will convene in the coming weeks to draft an action plan
for the Christian institutions, where each will take
responsibility over one sector and work in collaboration
with other partners. When the action plan is finalized, concept notes will be developed, studied, analyzed, which will be developed into project proposals. Once this is ready, we will call on our donors who have been very generous in supporting our work in Gaza so that together, we can support our Christian presence in Gaza.

Some Final Observations
During this visit, I had the opportunity to meet with key players of the Christian community and develop strategies on how we can work in partnership to further support the community. The mood in Gaza was relatively upbeat given the negotiations between the main Palestinian political factions to end their divisions and reach a true reconciliation that can only mean good news. It was felt that once a national unity agreement is reached, the borders with Egypt will be reopened both for the free travel of people, but more importantly for the free delivery of goods and supplies. This will dramatically help the economy especially in economic sectors like construction that will create thousands of jobs for the unemployed. Further, it was felt that ending the sole domination of Hamas with its clear Islamic agenda over the Gaza strip would translate into more openness towards the Christian presence and ease religious tensions that have been dominant for some seven years now.

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