Last week I spent three days with my staff and doing work in the Gaza Strip. I’ve been going to Gaza since my first trip there as a college student in December 1988, and I’ve seen how the situation there has gotten so much worse, how hard the lives of Gaza’s 2 million people have become, and how strong they are to continue to survive and try to keep their humanity. I’ve been very honored over the thirty-plus years of visiting Gaza to help care for thousands of sick and injured kids through PCRF, culminating with the opening of Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Pediatric Cancer Department in February of this year.
My first stop last week was at the cancer department, where I sat with our consultant and contractors to work out some of the final pieces of equipment and materials to get to the department. The 12-year closure of Gaza’s borders has made bringing in the equipment and materials a difficult task, but also there are local problems that never seem
to end. One of the items was getting recliners for the patient’s rooms so the mothers could stay with their children who are an in-patient. Something as simple as that requires efforts and struggle, but we managed to get 8 and started to admit kids into the department on Saturday to sleep. Our out-patient work has been going on since the opening in February.
having kids in the department now also enable us to start providing them tutoring so they don’t fall behind in school and have to repeat their class, as well as reduce the hardship of kids leaving their families for treatment outside.
I went the next morning to Deir El Balah in central Gaza and met with our field team there to discuss some interesting projects in the coming weeks, as well as to see new patients we are sending outside of free care, as well as some of the kids we have treated abroad from the area. One of these new cases we are sending outside is 5-year-old Mohammed, who had an infection and lost both of his legs three years ago. He is a very cute boy with an infectious smile, and getting him walking again with two new prostheses is the work that makes PCRF such a great organization.
I went next to see the amputee soccer team at the UN school, which has two kids we have sent abroad for treatment over the past several years, as well as a boy one of our medical teams treated in Gaza during a mission. Seeing youths in Gaza playing soccer despite losing limbs was inspiring on an emotional and intellectual level. Life is only as hard as we want to make it, and if these kids can overcome the loss of a leg to still play this game, then whatever problems we have in our lives is minimal. I was very happy to see Abdelrahman, who stayed in Ohio with me and my family in August after we brought him for a new leg following a gunshot injury last March, playing the game with joy and happiness.
That afternoon I went back to Gaza city to meet with three doctors to discuss possibly starting a project to support neonatal care in Gaza. There are significant shortages in incubators and other basic necessities for newborn babies, and if we can have a project to help improve their good work there, then it could have an
impact on the lives of Gaza’s children in a positive way. I then met the new Gaza cancer team for dinner to thank them for their hard work and to encourage them to see the new department as a special place that will be a great source of love and healing for Gaza’s children. Teamwork and good communication are essential for our success in Gaza, as the political situation both internally and externally is not going to improve anytime soon. We have to do the best we can to help our kids.
Leaving Gaza back to Ramallah is always bittersweet for me. I want to see my family, especially now that I have a new baby, but I also love the people in Gaza, their kindness and humor, their courage and determination. My staff there are hardworking and dedicated, and our work there is making a huge difference. I travel on a Palestinian ID, so I consider myself very fortunate to visit Gaza and look forward to my next trip there.