Mar 042011
 

HCI is celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day on the March the 8th by highlighting the plight of women entrepreneurs with special needs in the Middle East and launching a year of activities focusing on this group through a series of interventions specifically targeting their needs.

There is a distinct gender disparity in literacy and education, as well as low rates of female economic participation, public participation and representation in the Arab world, where forty percent of women over the age of fifteen are illiterate and female economic activity is thirty four percent that of males.

The general condition of women with disabilities and special needs in Arab societies is invisibility. They are often considered a source of shame and a burden to their families. Although their status varies from country to country, the theme of marginalization to a greater or lesser extent is common to all of them.

As women, they are segregated from male society, but as women with special needs they are also isolated from the lives of other women. They are, for all intents and purposes, invisible; their issues receive little, or no, consideration; and there are very few programs that target them specifically.

In communities where a woman’s status is dependent on making “a good marriage”, being “a good wife” and a “good mother”, these women do not stand a chance. They are not considered marriageable and often their siblings are also overlooked in marriage by reason of association.

HCI has been working with women and people with special needs across the region for over two decades and will continue to do this by highlighting their plight and empowering them to be active, self-reliant and initiating, encouraging others to follow their example and affecting society to consider women with special needs not merely as a subject of care and charity, but as equal citizens of society and holders of human rights able to provide for themselves and their families.

This year we are supporting physically challenged women entrepreneurs in Darfur, Sudan by providing them with loans to set up micro-businesses, we are providing breast cancer patients and other women entrepreneurs with special needs in Gaza with support and training to set up new businesses and we are providing physically challenged young women from vulnerable and low-income areas of Cairo whose businesses have been adversely affected by the recent events with training, loans and in-kind support toward rebuilding their micro enterprises.

Our interventions this year supporting women entrepreneurs with special needs will not end here. New interventions will be launched this year; and HCI is taking the opportunity of the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day to celebrate these women’s strength and their will to succeed. They are truly an inspiration to us.

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Dec 112009
 

HCI KG West BankFrequent arrests, military raids, over 600 Israeli military checkpoints, severely restricted freedom of movement, and ever-expanding settlements occupying more and more land are all a part of life in the West Bank. Conflict, poverty, unemployment, and isolation have left its residents with an uncertain future. The physically and mentally challenged, who according to WHO estimates make up 7-10% of the Palestinian population, are far from immune to these issues. To make matters worse, continued conflict, landmines, and political instability mean that the number of challenged individuals will continue to rise. They are subjected to societal prejudice and lack of opportunities. Discrimination against the physically and mentally challenged is widespread, and extends into the educational system. This prejudice, combined with the very poor state of accessibility throughout the West Bank due to hilly geography and lack of reliable public transport, means that young, challenged children are often denied the chance to attend school.

Children, in particular, are sensitive to the traumatic events which characterize life in the West Bank, and it affects their development acutely. Disabled children may be faced with two challenges, both the physical handicap of, for example, a hearing impairment, and the emotional damage caused by the sudden loss of a family member due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Displacement and an uncertain future are felt by children as well as adults. They are deprived of the sense of stability and social cohesion that is critical for healthy psychosocial development.

HCI KG West BankThe Palestinian Authority does not have the resources to aid these children. Funding for specialized schools is not readily available, and the economic crisis throughout the West Bank means that resources remain scarce. Restricted movement and occupation have taken their toll on the West Bank economy, and in turn on the funds available to the Palestinian Authority. This means that it is up to Non-Governmental Organizations like Human Concern International to fill the gap, and give the children the education they need for a real chance at a fulfilling life.

Without education physically and mentally challenged children are often doomed to a life of dependency and poverty. To prevent this from happening they must be reached at as young an age as possible. Numerous studies have shown that early childhood development is crucial for success later in life. In light of these facts HCI, along with local partners like the Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls (VRWSG), have established a unique kindergarten in Bethlehem targeted specifically at physically and mentally challenged children with a special focus on the hearing impaired; there is much work to be done in the field of providing early education opportunities for special needs children in Palestine and The Human Concern Kindergarten (which was given its name by the local partners in recognition of HCI’s efforts in the region) is proud to be one of the pioneers that provides these children with a much needed sense of normalcy and stability that is sorely lacking in the lives of West Bank children. It gives them the confidence they need to face the enormous challenges which await them later in life.

HCI KG West BankThe school has a capacity of forty children. That is forty Palestinian children who are given a safe haven, specialized training, and a chance at a better future. Teachers trained in sign language give hearing impaired children the chance to fully communicate. Furthermore, the school not only aids the hearing impaired, it is also fully accessible to the physically challenged, and has staff ready and able to deal with whatever difficulty the children may face, whether is it physical or mental. The school is fully equipped, and all facilities (rooms, entrance/exits, door, kitchen, toilets, playground, etc) are approved by the Ministry of Higher Education as fully accessibilities for children with mental, hearing, or physical impairments. Its staff includes counselors specially trained to work with deaf and mute pre-school children, as well as social workers capable of providing psychosocial support.

HCI KG West BankHelping children is critical for the future of the West Bank. It not only aids the children themselves, it also aids their parents and families through the activities organized by the kindergarten. It teaches children to become self-reliant, which will in turn relieve future financial burdens placed on family budgets already stretched to the breaking point by restricted movement and a depressed economy. Outreach activities inform parents of the importance of educating their children, and sign language training is given to the families of deaf and mute children so that they are able to fully communicate together. The kindergarten has helped boost the local Bethlehem economy by creating nine new full-time jobs. It not only symbolizes a chance at a better life for the children, it also represents hope for the future of the community.

Social workers employed by the kindergarten help to reduce the stigma that challenged children face amongst their fellow Palestinians. By working with local residents they encourage greater acceptance of physically and mentally challenged children throughout the community. This is done through actions such as the training of government workers in the use of sign language so that they are better able to communicate with hearing impaired children. The kindergarten itself ensures that challenged children meet others who face the same difficulties, and lets them know that they are not alone in their struggle. It is a bright spot in the otherwise bleak lives of children who are not often given the chance to succeed. Little by little we are working towards the day when these children will no longer be outsiders; a day when they will be able to contribute to the building of a more prosperous, accepting Palestinian society.

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Oct 072009
 

Ramadan 09For the Muslim world, the month of Ramadan is traditionally a time for inner reflection, 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. The tradition of fasting is one that makes people all over the world feel with those who are hungry, with those who are destitute. In Ramadan, HCI takes the opportunity to honor these valued traditions while continuing to extend help to the poor and needy in the communities they serve; in the Arab world alone it is estimated that 65 million people live below the poverty line and about 11 million people suffer from malnutrition with 12.7 percent of children under the age of five being underweight. HCI is painfully aware of these statistics and has been dedicatedly engaged in battling poverty, disaster and despair here for over 20 years.

This Ramadan, like many Ramadans before, in villages, towns and cities all over The Arab world, HCI has reached out to many disadvantaged communities in the true Ramadan spirit; hundreds of traditional healthy Ramadan meals have been served to those the most in need of help and support. In addition, specially designed care packages that contain food items such as rice, dried beans, sugar and dried fruit that the families can make use of throughout Ramadan have been distributed by HCI to help ease the economic burden on these families while being as nutritionally beneficial as possible. HCI’s selection criteria direct food allocation to low-income, large, and single-parent families, particularly if the single parent is a woman or person with special needs.

Ramadan 09 GazaGAZA STRIP

In Gaza City, HCI organized an Iftar for war affected farmers and their families who have been supported by HCI to establish their own farming businesses. One hundred and fifty people came together to share the success of what HCI introduced into their lives, out of destruction these people have managed to reestablish their livelihoods, it is impressive; It has been nine months since the last Israeli Operation here and 3 years into a stifling siege, life for Gazans is characterized by chronic unemployment, infrequent access to power and water, health hazards stemming from inadequate sewage system, and sub-standard housing with thousands living in tents or the rubble of their former homes. When it was time for the distribution of food packages to the needy, the war affected people of Gaza did not have to stand in long queues this year, HCI’s team made up of tens of volunteers went door to door and personally delivered the much needed food items and listened to and made note of each family’s problems.

Ramadan 09 West BankTHE WEST BANK

Life has not improved for many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank since the construction of the separation wall that has severed communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In keeping with its commitment to help where it is needed, HCI’s presence was also felt in the West Bank this Ramadan; in the Central District of the West Bank we organized food package distributions for low income families with persons having special needs.

Ramadan 09 SudanSUDAN

In the Salama settlement, south of the capital Khartoum there are about eleven thousand internally displaced people who have fled the violence in the south and west of their country. Here they face chronic poverty, high unemployment, and many health problems. Iftars were organized for them here as well as in the north and west of Khartoum in similar settlements. The distribution of hundreds of much needed “goodwill” or “fasting” food packages as they are called in Sudan were implemented all over the capital as well.

Ramadan 09 SudanSince it is also close to the time when school fees must be paid and school supplies must be purchased, to ease the economic burden on these mostly single mother headed households, and inspired by our firm belief in education as a form of empowerment, we have also prepared back to school items to be distributed to several community schools around the capital. Our Iftars and packages may not seem enough compared to what these communities require, but they address an immediate and pressing need, hopefully with more funding in the future we will be able to do more, for now at least these settlers know that they have not been forgotten.

Ramadan 09 EgyptEGYPT

Kalabsha El-Jedida, Bashayer el-Kheir, New Tomas and ‘Afia village are new Egyptian settlements west of Lake Nasser; they were conceived as part of the government’s plan to resettle one million people around Lake Nasser by 2017 to green the desert. Several of these small agricultural communities have already sprouted up in this desolate land, but the lack of basic amenities has so far been a hindering factor in this project realizing its true potential. Yet even in the face of enduring hardship, these vulnerable and marginalized settlers from all over the country are determined to make a future for themselves and for their families. This year, HCI in collaboration with local partners made sure that 400 of the poorest households in these settlements took home a food package that would be a source nourishment and economic relief.

Ramadan 09 EgyptIn the two days of distribution, work was continuous around the clock to ensure the timely delivery of the food parcels. The New Tomas and ‘Afia village are quite far; approximately 270 km south of the nearest city, Aswan. Making this journey in the morning with the scorching heat was quite challenging for the team but after Iftar as we drank cold water and ate dates, allowing their sweetness to awaken our blood sugar and digestion, we felt inspired to see firsthand the courage and will of these settlers determinedly building a new life for themselves under difficult conditions, and we felt happy to have played a small role in their narrative which will undoubtedly prove to be a success story.

Ramadan 09 LebanonLEBANON

In Lebanon, one hundred and fifty physically handicapped individuals and their families from all over the country participated in an Iftar organized by HCI in partnership with the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union. In the hopes of making their Iftar a memorable one, a carefully selected wheelchair friendly venue was selected for the event and a Hakawati, a traditional storyteller, was at hand to volunteer and entertain these families with inspirational tales; the human connection between the storyteller and the audience creates a sort of friendship, and thus the stories told become more believable and accepted. This makes the message or the advice hidden within the story more influential to their lives.

Ramadan 09 LebanonIn the northern city of Tripoli, one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean coast with an alarmingly high number of single mother headed homes as a result of war and conflict, HCI organized a series of Iftars and distributions; food packets were distributed to needy families in the north and three hundred orphans and their families were invited by HCI to break their fast together over a period of three days. We are pleased to report that the normally quiet Ramadan evenings in Tripoli were filled with laughter and the sounds that children generally make when they are having fun. Furthermore, HCI organized an Iftar in the high and remote village of Jabal Akroum for the needy local families.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Ramadan 09 Iraqi RefugeesIt is estimated that Jordan hosts over 500,000 Iraqi refugees, the majority of which are without residency permits and unable to work legally, they are often fearful of seeking out official forms of aid. They largely confine themselves to their homes because of economic constraints, disabilities and concerns about their legal status. Access to educational and health services remain limited. Every day is a struggle to hold their families together with very little means. And even though their future is uncertain and their current situation is grim, going back home is out of the question; home is where they saw the destruction of their communities and the constant threat of violence, torture and extortion. Growing numbers are living at or below the poverty line. The resources of many families have dwindled to almost nothing and this creates concern about the simplest things, like how they will feed their children each night.

This year, HCI’s team in Amman distributed hundreds of food packages to mostly widow headed Iraqi families. Not only did these families receive temporary relief to their economic burden but their dignity remained intact, and they felt cared for.

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Apr 012009
 

CSP Lebanon“My name is Abeer.

I snuck into the pocket space under the stairs and settled on a worn rubber tire. I took into myself a rusty-bladed knife in a box of wood shavings, and watched the crystal bubbles in clear olive-oil jugs, and mourned.

My fuzz-head torn-shorts brother sat cross-legged on the ground beside me, and he held my hand in his so brown, scab-kneed little urchin thinking thoughts deep by the rusty-handled hoes. We sat, us two, drifting between time and place, the air so still and dry it burned our skins- but did not burn the hurt engraved underneath-sitting amidst ruins of an ancient town, already forgetful of the fairy foot-falls of elfin children, the glorious frivolity in their pearly-toothed grins.

I inched close wondering- it was the first reverberating life motion, memories in this garden-climbing a shiny-leafed fig tree- Tripoli, Lebanon, and the scorching abyss of the dark planting hole, seeds dropped down deep, nothing shaded, only burnt-black bright migraine-sun-and brown-skinned children sitting hollow-eyed each on a ladder rung propped up against a pomegranate tree, dread in small hands gripping splintery wood, watching the dust settle amidst the rubble of a now-sky-roofed house.

CSP LebanonMy father is dead. My home, it is ruined, racked by the explosion that took so much away from us. Our family is destitute, our basic needs for food, clothing, shelter- they are all unmet. It is with despair we look to the future. We are deprived of the paternal care that gives us good homes and a chance at a decent education. We are deprived of the capable love that can erase the dread we face our future with, bring back the frivolity in our smiles and set our lives moving again in a direction where we will not have to watch the dust settle over our ruin.

But there is a beacon of hope. My little brother, Ahmed, only 5 years old, has been sponsored by HCI for two years now. It is the only source of income for my family now.”

Continue reading »

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Jan 142009
 

Human Concern International has been actively involved in the West Bank and Gaza for the past decade building self-sustainable short and long term development projects in addition to providing relief and humanitarian assistance that foster self-reliance, self-directness and preserves human dignity for the sake of the disadvantaged groups in Palestine. Thanks to a quality network of local grassroots partners that we have assembled in the past decade.

Our main aim is to improve the social and economic well being of poor Palestinians and help them to cope with the difficult situation they are going through. Tens of thousands of disadvantaged families in the West Bank and Gaza have benefited from HCI programs for the past decade, helping them to rebuild their lives and launch them on the path to self-support and maybe even beyond, towards prosperity–which they surely deserve.

Our latest dispatched trucks loaded with basic food items to Gaza by land, helped 2,000 poor families struggling to survive with little access to the basic necessities. This may be little but it helped besieged needy Gazans survive the deteriorating living conditions–even if it is just for few days.

But so much more needs to be done, and there are very few funds available for us to increase our programs or to launch new ones. That is why we are making this special appeal for help. Please donate generously and help HCI help the ordinary people of the West Bank and Gaza.

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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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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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Sep 252008
 

“HCI contribution has improved the lives of many families living in despair and gave hope to many hopeless children. Just watch the smile of every child who benefited from HCI school bags project you can then see the great impact the project had on those children” commented Sarah Barakat, President of HCI local partner in the West Bank, Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls (VRWSG).

Among many stories of need and despair that was revealed to the VRWSG team, the story of Jihad, an 11 year old orphan from Hebron, was the most touching. Jihad almost fell into tears while holding his new schoolbag, not believing that he will go to school with a new schoolbag this year. He came to the VRWSG center where some of the school bags were distributed. Upon receiving his bag, he thanked one of the volunteers by saying “Every year, I either use an old one and fear that my books will fall off, or I wait, as some of the neighbors might pass me another one that their child used to have, and I use it hoping that it wont break soon”, Jihad was smiling and would not let go of his bags. All the volunteers at the center were very touched, seeing him that happy.

The distribution of the school bags, stationary and school supplies this year was a natural response to the needs of the families included in an assessment carried by the VRWSG in the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem, to identify projects that can provide instant support to poor families.

The holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of the school year together in the same month were one of too many expenses on families barely making a living. By offering a schools bag, stationary and school supplies, around thousand family were able to make sure that this month would end smoothly, without having to make a hard decision, like taking a child out of school to cut expenses (most probably a female child). A women from Batir village shouted out laud while receiving the school bags: “I did not know where to get the money to buy school supplies for my daughters. Please make sure to pass my gratitude to HCI”. The VRWSG team was happy to hear such comments; still, they knew that together with the HCI, a long road is still waiting ahead, especially while working in Palestine, were the Israeli occupation constitutes the main obstacle in reaching people in need.

The villages that received the school bags could have simply waited forever till the school bags arrive if the volunteer’s convoy was not so determined to carry on. “We don’t believe in failure. We believe in challenging the obstacles we face in order to succeed”, commented Mariam, a VRWSG team member. Her comment summarizes the group of women determination to overcome many of the challenges in working in volatile area such as the West Bank. “When we were delivering the school supplies to AL Woljeh village, we were asked by the Israeli soldiers to step down from the car and we were interrogated about the bags, and we were requested to open each and every single one of them, as they were not exactly thrilled with the idea of helping Palestinian students. After a brief argument, and after ten bags were opened and thrown on to the ground, we were released, and were able to deliver the bags,” Mariam explained. “Another check point in Hebron stopped the team of the Union of Palestinian Women Committee for three hours without a reason. They were forced to stand up under the sun for about three hours before releasing them,” she concluded.

As Palestinian students go to school, and as families celebrate Ramadan and look forward for the Eid, not having to worry about some of the school expenses, and not having to pull one of the children out of the school, HCI is planning for additional projects to improve the lives of these families, especially the life of their children. This is what HCI does: help alleviate human suffering through projects that foster self-reliance, self-directness and preserves human dignity.

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