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

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 to plan, design and implement the survey.

The first day of the presentation 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 percent), employed in the labor force (40 percent) and are 1948 refugees (54 percent).

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 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) 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 included a more in-depth discussion about the results of the survey. Each Christian institution gave a presentation about its work, areas of expertise, the challenges being faced, 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 five 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. The focus also included housing, education and better communication strategies with other Christian communities in Palestine.

Researcher Dr. Bishara Al-Khoury gave 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 for the free travel of people, and for the free delivery of goods and supplies. This will dramatically help the economy, especially in sectors such as construction; this will help create thousands of jobs for the unemployed.

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