War — no matter how cruel and harsh — will one day end. The question is: Can anyone assess the actual cost of war in terms of lives lost and the impact on the lives of those who witness it?
The staff of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, continue to discover the ramifications of past wars in Gaza — including the most recent conflict in May 2021 — and to offer support in Gaza’s rehabilitation and restoration efforts.
Thousands of Gazan children and youth suffer ongoing psychosocial trauma resulting from the armed conflicts, which persist even after they leave Gaza. In one instance, a young Gazan studying in Florence, Italy, says she continues to feel unsettled and unsafe three months after arriving in Italy. The 19-year-old student takes a number of medications each day, mostly anti-depressants, and remains traumatized from four wars over the course of her life.
“I thought that as soon as I left Gaza, my life would change, and I’d overcome my fears and forget about the war,” she says. “But here I am, three months later, and I startle at a sudden, loud noise.”
In Gaza, Pontifical Mission continues to support the psychosocial program at three mother-and-child clinics operated by the Near East Council of Churches (NECC). The program provides free psychosocial support for children and their parents.
A similar program through AISHA Association for Women and Child Protection served the residents of Al-Shate Refugee Camp. Activities are organized at the camp’s Brotherhood Park, installed by Pontifical Mission in 2002. The park is open year-round and currently requires donor funding to rehabilitate the public restrooms and the playground, which serve the entire camp.
CNEWA-Pontifical Mission also supports a program at NECC’s three clinics that addresses chronic malnourishment and stunted growth among children — the result of extreme poverty in Gaza — which stand at 33 percent and 13 percent respectively of Gaza’s child population.
Always in support of children’s overall well-being, Pontifical Mission funded the restoration of the Rosary Sisters School, namely the kindergarten classroom and the school’s foundation, after heavy bombardment of the adjacent street last May shifted the building slightly. The school’s protection wall had to be pulled down and rebuilt as well.
The YMCA’s youth programming, including sports and Scouting, resumed after damages last May to its building, playground and solar panels were restored through Pontifical Mission, with funding from other nonprofit partners, including Embrace the Middle East and Children’s Relief Bethlehem.
The Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza seeks to treat the various illnesses among children, but is coming up short with a lack of equipment to properly diagnose and treat epilepsy and various orthopedic conditions and to perform tonsillectomies.
The hospital is also seeking funding to continue its breast cancer screening program, especially among women from the area of Beit Hanoun, a city in the Gaza Strip’s northeast, which has documented an increase in the incidence of breast cancer. Medical professionals speculate the increased breast cancer is linked to the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides in the area, but they underline the need to study the situation more closely to determine the cause.
The hospital also highlights the need to continue women’s bone density screenings to test for osteoporosis. Women, in particular, have been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.
In further support to youth, Pontifical Mission is subsidizing the employment 16 young people at the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center, with additional funding from partner organizations.
The center, which was inaugurated last September, is the 17th Christian institution in the Gaza Strip. Together they serveabout 250,000 people in Gaza yearly. The new center is spacious and well-equipped to host events and conferences, with a gym and multipurpose hall.
Watch a short video about the programs that help children and families in Gaza heal from the trauma of war.
Joseph Hazboun is the director of the CNEWA-PM office in Jerusalem.