Dec 172008

The second and the third day of Eid Al-Adha dawned windy–one of the most important events in the Muslim calendar both religiously and socially — rainy and cold, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of HCI team in Middle East, assisted by volunteers and local partners, determined to see that the poorest of the poor had a decent feast day observance. It is a celebratory time when fresh Adahi meat is enjoyed.

Upholding a long-held tradition, thousands of families in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan — widows, orphans, unemployed, those with special needs — received meat packages along with a “Happy Eid” card and the good wishes of HCI supporting integrated development and relief programs in the communities where distributions were implemented. Recipient families were identified with assistance from village councils and local partners.

“This reinforces our emphasis on development versus relief,” stated Rabih Yazbeck, HCI ME Regional Director. “It allows us to share in local celebrations and support local residents on such important occasions,” he continued, “taking us beyond simple food distribution to underscore the entire development process in which we are engaged.”

HCI selection criteria directed meat allocation to low-income, large, and single-parent families, particularly if the single parent were a woman or person with special needs.

And since a picture says more than a thousand words, here is a selection of photos from HCI’s Adahi Program for this year:

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Dec 032008

The border village Al-Wazani, an underprivileged agricultural village in Southern Lebanon located directly on the Lebanese-Israeli border, was heavily affected by the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. In addition to the total destruction of infrastructure, the loss of lives and an economy suffering badly from the recession that followed the war, livestock losses during the war are estimated at 1 600 high-yielding milking cows and more than 20 000 goats. The families that already lived in fragile conditions before the conflict, found themselves facing a very difficult situation with the loss of the much needed income; most of them having no savings to make new investments.

HCI project is helping hardest-hit farming families to recover their livestock losses and resume their production activities which include milk production and processing into local yogurt and cheese. This involves the distribution of milking cows to those families and providing them with technical and veterinarian assistance. The project involved the development of a revolving livestock scheme, but requiring the first newborn cows to be given to other families in need. The project also involved conducting a comprehensive survey in Al-Wazani area by profiling hardest-hit farming families and conducting a needs assessment for shortlisted families.

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Dec 012008

Last Monday and Wednesday, HCI dispatched two trucks loaded with humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip to help besieged Gazans survive the deteriorating living conditions. The trucks crossed King Hussein Bridge carrying basic food items.

“We seek to help besieged poor Gazans cope with the difficult situation they are currently going through,” HCI coordinator commented as he saw off the trucks, which were due to head for the West Bank city of Jericho, before continuing their journey to Gaza. The Hashemite Charity Organisation, HCI’s partner in Jordan, assisted in the preparation of the trucks, while the distributions of food aid are coordinated by UNRWA inside Gaza.

The two trucks were part of the few trucks allowed to enter Gaza Strip last week after Israel briefly opened three border crossings with Gaza, allowing some essential food and fuel into the territory for the second time in four weeks. However, the two-day shipment would have minimal impact because border crossings have been closed for so long, depleting reserves of everything from flour to animal feed.

Gaza has been sealed since November 4, as Israel cut food and fuel supplies when its troops raided the area to destroy what the army described as a tunnel built by Gaza fighters which triggered a surge in rocket attacks. The latest closures led to widespread power blackouts, disrupted water supplies and caused severe shortages of cooking gas and flour.

However, temporarily lifting the blockade would not allow enough supplies into Gaza. “It is just not enough,” HCI coordinator said, estimating that Gazans need at least 15 trucks worth of supplies daily to get by. If this continues, a very grim future waits ahead, and a humanitarian disaster is on the verge of happening.

The UN stopped distributing cash handouts to Gaza’s poorest last week, and economists and bank officials warn that tens of thousands of civil servants won’t be able to cash their paycheques when they get their salaries next month.

Israel and Egypt have restricted movement through Gaza’s border crossings since Hamas seized control in June 2007.

Since then, closures have been eased or tightened, depending on the security situation. But even in quiet times, only limited shipments of food, medicine and commercial goods were allowed in.

Recent reports revealed that 80% percent of the families living in the strip are fully dependent on food supplies from aid agencies, this means that the group at most risk are children, especially those who are under five. The number of children suffering from malnutrition, diarrhea, insomnia and anxiety attacks has increased to 40% percent under the current siege. School dropouts have surged due to the dangers of commuting to and from schools in such a volatile security situation, and also since many of the Gazan families cannot afford schooling for their children any more.

The cost of basic food supplies have sharply risen before and after the recent closures; in 2007 the average Gazan family spent 62% of their income on food supplies, compared to only 37% in 2004.

Gaza municipality is unable to operate the city’s sewage pumps and reservoirs, there is no safe mean in which Gazan can dispose their waste at, 40 million liters raw or partially treated sewage is being pumped into the Mediterranean Sea everyday.

The heath sector has witnessed a humongous impede in the amount of services provided, as the hospitals in Gaza lack sufficient beds, drugs, resuscitations devices, needles and blood to the meet the demand. Due to the fuel and severe electricity shortage, hospitals and medical centers have had to cut down from the amount of the health services being offered.

The situation in Gaza is becoming more intolerable by the day. Numerous cases of diseases and infection caused by malnutrition have been reported, in addition of the long term effect of such a situation on the well being and the mental health of the residents of the strip.

The two trucks dispatched by HCI last week loaded with basic food items to Gaza Strip will help 2,000 vulnerable families to cope with the difficult situation they are currently going through. This may be little but better than nothing and will help besieged needy Gazans survive the deteriorating living conditions — even if it is just for few days.

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Nov 032008

There are five people sitting in the same dirt-yard. The first is an old man; he is a vegetable peddler. He is aged, and the limbs of his body seem to rage against each other. There is no coordination in his movements, he is ragged, one of his eyes has been put out and the threat on his second eye is looming. He is war.

The second is a young girl in borrowed clothing; her own garments have been taken away from her. She is a prisoner, and every day she reaches her tiny hands through the bars hoping for a morsel, yet the world turns a blind eye. She is occupation.

The third is a dark-skinned young man with smoldering eyes. He is in a wheelchair; his legs have been mutilated beyond any resemblance of normal limbs. He is catastrophe.

The fourth is an infant boy whose face has lost its baby roundness. Hunger has eaten away at his limbs, and this is because he is an orphan. He has no mother to feed him. He is poverty.

The fifth is a young lady of exceptional beauty who has been torn and ravaged by the times. She can only run with those behind her gaining fast. She has nowhere to go. She is illness.

The month of Ramadan is a month of family, generosity, tradition. The tradition of fasting is one that makes people all over the world feel with those who are hungry, with those who are destitute. It is a time when hands are stretched out to those in need with love and care. And in this month in general is all the generosity of the world contained in the hearts of those who care. Human Concern International is one of those who care. They have done, this past Ramadan, work that will last in the hearts of the destitute forever. For the time being, at least, war, occupation, catastrophe, poverty and illness are vanquished.

Lebanon is the old man War. Civil strife, especially around Tripoli lately in the north, is rampant. Civilians struggle to meet their needs and educate their children. It is like the scarred, hopeless old man who is peddling his vegetables to no one who can afford to buy them. They turn stagnant, much like his hopes. In order to help this old man, HCI held two iftars in which delicious and nutritious food was available to the orphans of Tripoli and their families. They also distributed food packets to the needy in the north, in the south and in the east of the country, putting a smile on the old man’s face for the first time in a long time.

Palestine is the young girl occupation. The families of martyred men lose their source of income and are in dire need of assistance. The Israeli siege and checkpoints make sure that little help is got to them. They are losing hope of survival. And yet, through terrible conditions in which food packets were investigated scrupulously and spoiled, thrown on the ground and left to rot, the determination of the HCI crew managed to distribute hundreds packages to hundreds needy families. Thus the HCI managed to find–not only bread and water– but also cake and tea to the imprisoned young girl with the hands stretched out.

Sudan is the young man catastrophe. The countrymen of Sudan have to live where every institution is a catastrophe: educational, economical, environmental, political, constitutional, infrastructure, health, civilisation, development and so on. And the squalid way in which the population is spread out duplicates the suffering of the Sudanese people. The HCI made their way through desolate lands, unpaved roads, dry landscapes and hazy horizons in order to get help to the Sudanese people. They managed to held two iftars and distribute hundreds food packages to needy Sudanese families at four poverty-stricken communities.

Egypt is the baby boy poverty. The village communities are vulnerable and marginalized, lacking proper heath and medical care services. The HCI helped the poor civilians of village communities by distributing five hundred Ramadan food parcels with rice, pasta, broad beans, vegetable ghee, sugar, tea and dried apricots. This definitely helped an infant smile to grow on the baby boy’s face.

Iraq is the young lady illness. More specifically, she is an Iraqi refugee. Iraqi refugees tend to stuff into cramped ragged apartments, most often an entire family in a single room. There’s little furniture and inadequate heat. Living in such congested quarters can increase the spread of illnesses, but most can’t afford or access health services. The HCI helped many needy and destitute families by distributing food packages this Ramadan.

One by one, these five people sitting in the dirt-yard have come into contact with kindness, warmth, and humanity in the form of the HCI, and each has learned just how grateful one can be to an extended helping hand. The HCI hopes that during Laylatul Qadr their fates for the next year will be kinder, and our fates on this side of the line will help us help them even more. And the HCI says, Ramadan Kareem, kareem indeed.

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Nov 032008

Located directly on the Lebanese-Israeli border, the southern village of Marwahin was heavily affected by the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.

On July 15 2006, a strike on a convoy of civilians fleeing from the village killed twenty-one people, including fourteen children. The tragedy of these poor young people and of their desperate attempts to survive their repeated machine-gunning from the air is as well-known in Marwahin as it is already forgotten elsewhere.

It would take years for Marwahin’s children to overcome the psychological effect of this tragedy. Psychosocial support for Marwahin’s children is vital to help heal the wounds from this tragedy.

On October 2nd and 3rd this year, with the help from HCI and local partners, hundreds of children from Marwahin gathered to celebrate the first and the second day of Eid el-Fitir. The Kermes was organized in the village’s main square where hundreds of families and their children from Marwahin and nearby villages had the chance for the first time since the tragedy to celebrate the Eid.

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Oct 242008

For the past five years, HCI has been working for the well being of the estimated 11,000 internally displaced people of Salama settlement, who have fled the violence in the south and west of their country and now live south of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Here they face chronic poverty, both high unemployment and illiteracy, and many health problems. Their health is jeopardized by both poverty and the environment in which they live. Eyesight related diseases rank very high among children due to environmental and dietary habits, as HCI research found out, particularly due to the pollution of drinking water and dietary habits.

HCI new intervention in the area addresses this problem by implementing an eyesight health campaign targeting school-aged children in the area. The project conducted a needs assessment/research of health issues of greater concerns to the local community.

The first intervention addresses eyesight related disease and eyesight problems by implementing mobile clinics to provide eyesight medical checkups and provide them with medicines and eye glasses. Eye related first-aid boxes and medical supplies were also provided to families. Water tanks for safe drinking water were also installed at two schools. Hundreds of families and their children participated and benefited from this campaign.

In partnership with three local grassroots organizations and Peace and Development Volunteers (PDV), a local voluntary organization, hundreds of school-aged children benefited from this intervention to-date at two sites in the same area. A third campaign will be implemented later this month at a remaining third site. Such intervention allowed for the implementation of quick impact interventions that built confidence between the partners and provided solid ground to expand much-needed health interventions in the area.

HCI operation in this area stretches back to 2003. HCI has been helping people in the area through community-based organizations established by local residents. Since 2003, HCI has been working in this area on microcredit projects for women, school rehabilitation, education support, income generating activities and food and non-food distributions.

In partnership with local and international partners, HCI has been working on health programs in Khartoum since 2002, particularly in Dar-El-Salaam settlement north of the capital Khartoum and home to about 16,000 displaced people. This include establishing a fully operational health clinic providing health and reproductive services for over 33,000 patients; seven women trained in community health outreach, emphasizing nutrition and hygiene; three women trained as midwives; and nine as home visitors, benefiting nearly 4,000 families; health awareness training for 45 women, establishment of a health awareness committee, and surveys conducted on reproductive health.

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Oct 232008

The border village Al-Wazani, an underprivileged agricultural village in Southern Lebanon located directly on the Lebanese-Israeli border, was heavily affected by the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. In addition to the total destruction of infrastructure, the loss of lives and an economy suffering badly from the recession that followed the war, livestock losses during the war are estimated at 1 600 high-yielding milking cows and more than 20 000 goats. The families that already lived in fragile conditions before the conflict, found themselves facing a very difficult situation with the loss of the much needed income; most of them having no savings to make new investments.

HCI project is helping hardest-hit farming families to recover their livestock losses and resume their production activities which include milk production and processing into local yogurt and cheese. This involves the distribution of milking cows to those families and providing them with technical and veterinarian assistance. The project involved the development of a revolving livestock scheme, but requiring the first newborn cows to be given to other families in need. The project also involved conducting a comprehensive survey in Al-Wazani area by profiling hardest-hit farming families and conducting a needs assessment for shortlisted families.

As a result, farmers are regaining access to food and sources of income. Among the most affected households who are benefiting from the project are families headed by widows, the wounded or the handicapped.

“As the number of livestock to be distributed remains low in relation to the magnitude of the losses, a substantial extension of the rehabilitation plan would be required to bring livestock keeping in Southern Lebanon to pre-war levels,” Mr Rabih Yazbeck, HCI Middle East Regional Director, commented.

In addition to the livestock recovery project, HCI is assisting hardest-hit horticulture farmers through the distribution of high quality fertilizer and pesticides to ensure increased crop production.

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Oct 202008

In the West Bank, civilians are cut out from the rest of the world because of the Israeli siege without any supply or support; they are deprived from basic life elements and their rights to live normally, in addition to difficulties they face in receiving support from foreign aid agencies. This obliged many operating aid agencies in the West Bank to seize operation, which in turn made the daily lives of Palestinians more miserable and prohibited them from getting their dire needs like nutriment and medicines.

Al Khodr, Houssan, Nahalen, Fouken valley, Bater, Al Walja and Al Jabaa in the South of West Bank are an example of olive oil rich, yet low-income villages that are suffering from the Israeli siege, the nearby Israeli settlements and the new West Bank Wall/Barrier. Farmers in these villages are constantly facing huge hurdle to access and cultivate their olive oil rich lands – the only source of income for them – especially farms close to the Israeli settlements or the new West Bank Wall/Barrier.

To alleviate the suffering and meet the dire need of low-income Palestinian olive oil growers and farmers, HCI has implemented the olive oil development project which consisted on building the capacity of farmers and provided them with much needed harvesting and pruning tools and equipments that helped them increase and improve their olive oil production, thus boosting their income.

In the West Bank and Gaza, HCI has pioneered in working on projects in the area of Olive Oil Development since 2005. In 2005, HCI, in partnership with local partners, pioneered into a totally new venture to help Palestinian olive oil growers and farmers. The initiative started in 2005 and helped to build up both the community networks and the expertise in the field of Olive oil development which enabled HCI to be one of the leading organizations in olive oil development in the country.

Far more than sentimental attachment in the eyes of Palestinians, olive trees–properly managed–can raise the incomes of hard-working farmers who often get relatively low prices from traders for their olive oil and not the true value of their product. HCI is committed to revitalizing this traditional Palestinian industry, in partnership with local partners.

Building on this success and accumulated experience, this recent intervention has targeted a new region in the south of West Bank, particularly seven low-income villages around Bethlehem suffering from deteriorating security and economic conditions and several restrictions and barriers.

140 farms were targeted by project activities. Equipments and tools were distributed to 70 farms in condition that they will be shared with another 70 neighbour farms.
Low-income and vulnerable olive farmers were targeted by project activities. Selection criteria included: low income families; families with more than 6 family members; families not receiving any support from other sources; priority for vulnerable groups, particularly families who have members in the family with special needs, widows, and elders; farms suffering from restrictions and barriers, e.g., close to Israeli settlements and/or near the West Bank Wall/Barrier.

New equipment, especially for harvesting and storage, included saws, plastic boxes, insect traps, ladders, and tanks for storage were distributed.

This was complemented by orientation workshops for farmers on important topics such as pruning, harvesting methods and techniques, preventing and fighting diseases, watering, and the right time for olive picking. HCI’s direct work with farmers boosted acceptance of these methods and increased awareness of the potential of a developing, local, olive oil industry.

Several local government and non-government, formal and informal entities were consulted and were invited to participate in project activities, including the selection of beneficiaries, the selection of targeted areas, and the prioritization of needs as well as in the delivery of project activities. The project was implemented in partnership with HCI local partner, the West Bank based Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls (VRWSG).

Local suppliers and extension workers benefited from those distributions. Harvesting and pruning tools and equipments were procured and acquired from local suppliers to support them in these deteriorating economic conditions.

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Oct 082008

The Holy Month of Ramadan is a time for inner reflection by Muslims, devotion to God, self control, and fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is also a particularly joyous time when relatives and friends invite each other over to gather around a table and break the fast together–Iftar–and above all a time of giving and feeling for the poor.

For several years HCI and its local partners have joined together to honor these traditions, extending help to the poor and needy in the communities they serve in Sudan.

This Ramadan, hundreds of Sudanese families received nutritional packages. In some of the poorest areas of Khartoum, widows and orphans, the elderly and the disabled, as well as low income families were able to fully participate in their traditions.

The most difficult to reach, HCI stretched out its hand through seven local non-governmental organizations and committees, working in four different areas.

In the poverty-stricken Salama settlement, south of the capital Khartoum, distribution and Iftars took place with the help of three local organizations: El Nahda (Society for Well-being of the Physically Disabled), Al-Hannan Association and Disability People Organization. In Dar El-Salam Tawidat settlement, north of the capital Khartoum, distribution and Iftars took place at two schools and a mosque. Other distribution points and assisting community organizations were: African Charitable Society for Mother and Child Care, Al Khogali Khalwa and Um-Mou’mineen organization.

“HCI Ramadan program increased closeness among the families in their communities,” commented HCI coordinator in Sudan who coordinated and supervised the distribution in each area. “This year’s distribution was well organized and more focused and transparent,” he concluded.

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Oct 082008

“I’m already feeling nervous and it has only been few hours since I arrived. How do those permanently living here feel? How do they manage?” wondered Aminah Kandar, a visiting Board Member from HCI-Canada, during a field visit to Tripoli. Aminah was accompanied by HCI’s local partner CIWS, specifically to the troubled area of Bab Al Tebeneh. This area is where the poorest families in Tripoli live, and where the economical cycle is mostly dependent on recycling metal – a job that barely makes a living.

We stood there trying to locate the house of an HCI sponsored child, despite the wreckage, and the warning sign displaying “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER THE BUILDING! MUNICIPALITY OF TRIPOLI” placed upfront, we went inside. The El-Sayed family that we were trying to reach, lives in this building where a massive explosion took place in middle of the night two months ago. This area has witnessed since April this year the deadliest clashes in Tripoli’s history. The northern city of Tripoli in Lebanon is the second most populated city yet the poorest city in Lebanon. This City of Tripoli is also known to be the poorest city on the Mediterranean sea.

Ahmed’s recently widowed mother, Fadileh, welcomed us inside her house surrounded by broken windows and cracked walls — a house that was shattered and wrecked from the intensity of the explosion. “We wear sleeping there”, Fadileh pointed out to the other room in house. “When the explosion happened, we woke up on a massive sound. I thought the building is falling over our heads,” Fadileh added. “I don’t know how did I reach for the children and ran towards the door. The shattered glass was all over the floor. I could hardly see from the dust and smoke. I was surrounded by my crying kids, but I could barely hear because my ears were bleeding. The smell of fire was increasing. I tried to unlock the door but it was stuck because of the intensity of the explosion. It was a total chaos. The neighbors finally managed to break in and helped us get out of the house. As I left the house, I distributed my six kids among my relatives in the near villages, and I came back here seeing if I could salvage anything,” she concluded with tears in her eyes.

Fadileh was widowed in 2002 when her husband suffered from a fatal fall while working, leaving her alone with 6 children aged 5 to 14 years old to take care of all by herself. Fadileh worked as a janitor for couple of months, but had to quit because of health problems.

Ahmed (5yrs) and his siblings were very excited about us; it is very rare that they get visitors from anyone. “I want to be an army officer” Ahmed said while smiling, “I want to protect my family”, he added. The Al Sayed family lives under extreme poverty and continuous insecurity like most of the Bab Al Tabaneh residents. Ahmed has been sponsored by HCI for two years. This sponsorship is currently the only source of income for the entire family.

Only 14 years old, and already engaged, the oldest daughter had dropped out of school. Fadileh thinks that her daughter’s future husband will substitute the needed male figure in her family, and will provide protection and security. We had a long discussion with Fadileh and her oldest daughter, Abeer, concerning early marriage, and the need and importance of Abeer’s education. Fadileh, agreed but added, “I had a dream to see my children either medical doctors or army officers, but right now I can’t afford the education of six children, even in a public school. I don’t have a job, and no one takes care of us, including my family and my relatives. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened to us without Ahmed’s sponsorship provided by HCI,” Fadileh concluded while remembering how Ahmed got sponsored by HCI two years ago.

Al Sayed family is one of many cases that HCI is supporting through the regional Child Sponsorship Program. This program provides not only financial support, but also hope; not only for the sponsored children, but in many cases, such as Al Sayed family, hope for the entire family. As we walked out of the building, hoping that we will continue supporting Fadileh and her family, Ahmed was waving good bye from the wrecked and unstable balcony, smiling at us and inspiring us to keep on working harder to not only help Ahmed but also others. Without this sponsorship, Ahmed and his entire family could have lived their entire life not knowing what hope is.

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