ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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

Serving the Smallest

The Greek Catholic Baby Clinic in the Old City helps thousands of children and mothers alike.

Within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem there stands a house, moderate in size and Ottoman in style, which might have been a fashionable residence some years ago. Today it is “home” for a very special family, and it buzzes with activity as more than 6,000 visitors enter its doors each year. This is the Greek Catholic Baby Clinic, where a loving staff of doctors, nurses, and administrators works hard to heal and care for patients who range in age from infancy to 12 years.

The Clinic was begun in 1948 as a self-help project by the women of the Greek Catholic community of Jerusalem. It is run by a staff of volunteers, with Mrs. Georgette Rizek, who is a mother herself, as its director. For many children, especially Arab refugees, the Clinic has become the only source of medicine, treatment and care. As the number of young patients who came for help steadily increased, overcrowding became a problem and the facilities started to show signs of age. It was necessary to plan for renovations and improvements.

With funds obtained from various sources by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the work was begun in 1976. Broken plaster was repaired, a faltering electrical system was mended, and adequate plumbing was installed. Workers built a roof to cover the first-floor waiting area, thereby assuring shelter from heat and rain and providing an additional room on the second floor for the care of sick infants. Administrators purchased much-needed supplies including medicines, medical equipment, milk, blankets and a washing machine. A new stove makes it possible to feed more undernourished children who benefit from the Clinic’s supplementary feeding program.

With the renovations completed, the Greek Catholic Baby Clinic is brighter, busier and better-equipped than ever. Its doctors and nurses are able to see and treat more children, and expanded in-patient facilities enable them to admit more of the infants who require hospital care.

Young patients who come to the Clinic receive medical check-ups and are innoculated against diseases such as poliomyelitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, measles and small pox. They are also weighed regularly. Formerly, underweight and malnourished children were placed on the Clinic’s supplementary feeding program; now, a nutrition program is provided for all children enrolled at the Clinic, and a hot meal is served to each child daily. Special care is given during the summer months to counteract the pernicious effects of dehydration, and the medical staff is particularly watchful for evidence of respiratory diseases in the winter.

While thousands of children are healthier because of the Clinic, they are not the only ones who receive help there. The staff has instituted special classes to teach illiterate mothers how to read and write. A twenty-week nutrition class meets twice weekly to train mothers to maintain their families’ health as well as their own through proper eating. And a day care center was established in 1977 to care for the infants of mothers who find it necessary to work outside the home. In it, underprivileged children of pre-school age receive special help to prepare them to cope with regular school classes.

All these services are provided free of charge and irrespective of creed; some financial help comes from the Greek Catholic community and from parents’ donations. But the people who support the Clinic through CNEWA and the PMP are “nice friends who keep us going,” says Georgette Rizek. “We are a shell without their help.” Mrs. Rizek, who raised a family of her own while running the Clinic, blends professional expertise with a warm concern for each one of the many children she helps. It is easy to see that the staff shares her lively, generous spirit: in a place where many of the poor are understandably slow to trust the new and unfamiliar, the Greek Catholic Baby Clinic enrolls more children every year. And it dispenses plenty of the best medicine: love.

Nora Coyne, a writer and researcher, is a student of Near Eastern affairs.

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