ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

In Gaza The Blind Don’t Beg

The Pontifical Mission Center for the Blind in Gaza is a haven of learning and support.

When one is asked to describe Muhammed Ashour, director of the Pontifical Mission Center for the Blind in Gaza, words like hard-working, cheerful and responsible come immediately to mind. Yet they provide only a partial description, for they do not really reveal the love and concern he has for the blind men, women and children of Gaza.

In 1962, when the Pontifical Mission Center for the Blind was established, Mr. Ashour left his job as headmaster of a reformatory school to become the Center’s director. Since then he has taken a personal interest in every blind child who has passed through the Center, and has kept in touch with all of them after they have started work or married. He knows that 99% of the graduates are employed. He knows that eleven of them succeeded in university courses, and that five more are university undergraduates at present. He can tell you that none of the children of his married graduates are blind.

Mr. Ashour can give you all sorts of interesting information, but what he is most proud of is that there are no blind beggars in Gaza anymore.

At one time the only way a blind man could make any money at all was to sit at a street corner and beg from the passers-by. Now those blind adults are trained to work in the refugee camps at special “Service Centers” run from the Pontifical Mission Center for the Blind. All the brushes and brooms used by the local municipality are made on contract in the Service Centers, and the blind men are paid for each article sold. They also make baskets, do cane work and weave carpets which can be sold on the local market.

Mr. Ashour knows every trainee by name, and he can tell you where each one had his “pitch” when he was a beggar. He laughs as he recalls their reaction when he approached them and asked, “Would you like to work for your living rather than beg?” They didn’t believe that it was possible at first, but now they know the satisfaction that comes from earning their money by working for it.

At the Pontifical Mission Center School, blind children receive a six-year primary education which begins when they are five years old. Then they either graduate to sighted schools where they can continue their studies, or join the vocational training in the Center. The girls learn to weave and to knit, making complicated designs on modern machines. The boys learn weaving, basketry, carpet-making and cane work, as well as how to make brushes and brooms.

benefactors in the United States. Mr. Ashour translates the benefactors’ letters and reads them aloud to the children so that they come to know the sponsors to whom they are so grateful. At Christmas and Easter, each child sends a special message in Braille to his “family” in the United States; Mr. Ashour writes a translation in English under the Braille. The unspoken message from the children and from Mr. Ashour and his staff to all CNEWA friends is “You care. We know you care, and this helps us to care for each other too.”

Helen Breen is an administrator at the office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in Jerusalem.

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