Saturday, 28 February 2015

To Survive or Thrive

A couple of years ago Maysa Al Hosomi (now 28 years old) was desperate. She had three beautiful little girls and her husband was finding occasional work; they were surviving but by no means could you say they were thriving. But, Maysa was determined to be able to provide better for her girls and she was not going to sit around waiting for handouts. She heard about a local women’s Community Based Organisation (CBO) that was operating in her neighbourhood and went calling on them to find out what they did and who they did it for.

As a result of this introduction she was invited to participate in some training sessions including entrepreneurship for women, income generation and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Following these trainings she put a table outside her house and sold some basic grocery items. But, having got a taste for some possibilities, she was dreaming much bigger, so she approached our staff to find out what she could do next. Her dream was to open a grocery store and after presenting a business case she was accepted into the Youth Entrepreneurs program. This partnership required her to be able to provide the space for her shop, with that our partners would assist with some of the basic shop fittings, (shelving, counter and a fridge).

Today the front room of her house is a clean, well organised, well stocked store selling all kinds of daily necessities and some luxuries. In the couple of years that she has been operating she has used her profit to buy a freezer which she stocks with fish as her community is a distance from the coast; she has purchased a second drinks fridge which is stocked with all the usuals; and she has computerized her accounts by teaching herself Excel and training her husband how to use the system.

Maysa and Mohammed are by no means rich, but as a result of a small investment from Sponsors and Maysa's hard work and determination to thrive, they make a ‘nice profit’ and are able to provide for their (now) four girls.

Video Translation:

Nour, 12: "Thanks to World Vision for supporting us to have our family small business, this helped our father to buy for us the things we like.”
Safa, 10: "Our father started to bring us nice clothes."
Fatima, 8:“Also, our father now gives me and my sisters’ money every day.”
“Thanks World Vision, we love you so much”

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Mahmoud's Freedom

This is about a Palestinian boy who lives in Gaza - but it is not about Palestine and Israel. It is about Mahmoud, but it is also about thousands of other Mahmouds, and Ranins and Asmas. It is about the protection of any child and the indiscriminate acts of war that threaten their futures. It is about the hope that no child, anywhere should have to experience what Mahmoud has experienced. It is about unimaginable hope.

Mahmoud is 14 years old, and he lived in a three-storey family home with his extended family - this was a loud home, a happy home - built on the highest point in the community in direct line with, and sight of the border. Mahmoud's dad had received some help to establish a home garden and together with the produce from the garden and occasional work as a labourer, Mahmoud and his siblings are able to attend school and the Child Friendly Space.

But out the side of the house was Mahmoud's pride and joy, his hobby - a chicken coup with 8 laying hens. This was his project. He had saved the money to buy the chickens and over the last couple of years had a developed a small business of supplying eggs for his family and occasionally some to sell.

But, on the 15th day of Ramadan in 2014 that all changed. Along with the rest of his neighbours his family received a warning - 'get out, and get out quick'. They didn't know who or why they were targeted, but that morning a bomb destroyed their home - and Mahmoud's chickens.

For the last 4 years Mahmoud has been attending one of our child friendly spaces (CFS), these are places designed to help children and their families overcome the trauma and confusion caused (in this case) by living in a war zone. Mahmoud has lived through 3 wars and numerous 'incursions' in his short 14 years. He has mourned family members (in Operation Protective Edge (2014) one of his Uncles was killed in the bombing of their house) and he lives in a place where even when things are normal - they are tough. He knows that he is from a group of people that are marginalised, powerless and captive - but he is not sure why that's the case. But he is a bright boy, and wise beyond his years.

But I suspect that those kids who can find ways to survive in these contexts have grown up quick and are all too knowledgeable for their years - they haven't had much time or chance just to be kids. To be carefree and irresponsible like kids should be.

Mahmoud tells me that he loves coming to the CFS because it is like "home", "it is better than school because the facilitators here are kind and care about us - coming here gives me hope because I feel like I discover myself here, I work out who I am and what I feel, I can express myself honestly. The leaders are like my "older brother and sister" and they come and visit our homes and help our parents."

But, despite the shy smile and quiet confidence, life is very different now. Like many Palestinian families home used to be filled with the chaos of living with extended family. Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, cousins all shared life together - family is not just special but vital. Today, the family is divided all over the city, and the look in Mahmoud's eyes betrays the pain that this causes. Mahmoud with his Mum and youngest siblings, sleep in a safer place in town and join Dad up at the destroyed family property during the day where they have built a wooden shack to stay in and a separate kitchen area.

The thing that caused the most pain? The loss of his precious chickens. So, with the help of his older brother who gets some work, he spent $15 and bought three new hens and built a new coup for them. Insha'allah, he will rebuild his little entrepreneurial hobby enterprise.

The future is no more stable at the moment, and Mahmoud fully expects there will be another problem but for now, he is focused. Apart from the re-established chicken and egg business he is determined to maintain his school grades, (he is in the top 3 students in his class) so that eventually, he will become a doctor and he will travel outside Gaza and "meet other people, see other places and feel free".

This is surely the right of any child, Palestinian, Israeli, Syrian or Australian - it doesn't matter. No child should be living in fear, in uncertainty, in pain - every child should have the hope of choices and freedom.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Knafeh and Hope

What do you get when you walk into a room filled with men chain smoking cigarettes and shisha, charcoal fires grilling meat, kebabs and flat bread, pans of oil deep frying falafel and chips, plates filled with hummus and olive oil, all topped off with sticky sweet fried knafeh and cardamon coffee?

Apart from a years worth of passive smoking and a headache - a great afternoon of food, (too much food) and passionate, loud conversation broaching some of the subjects that you are never supposed to raise: politics, religion, culture and death.

At a busy tourist site in Jericho, I had finished doing the tourist bit and was looking for a drink when I was invited to join the 'sinners and the tax collectors', or that's what it felt like. Other tourists were ushered into the buffet restaurant upstairs where the peacocks preened and the food was kept warm in a bane-marie. Once or twice a tourist stepped across the threshold of the service entry only to turn and exit quickly. I'm really not sure why because here, among the real people, the food was good and the conversation animated.

No one cared who I was, or wasn't, we just ate incinerated meat and solved the worlds problems together. We talked about the outside world's perceptions of Palestine and the way that the media can distort reality. We righted the wrongs of thousands of years of cultural animosity and mistrust. They announced that that there is much to celebrate and hope for. 

But most importantly, all of us, from numerous different cultures and sub-cultures, religions and political persuasions sat, ate, drank, laughed, talked, (smoked) and learned together. It was a good afternoon. (Although I have to say, despite the number of people who proudly put plates of knafeh, "the best desert ever", in front of me - I really don't like it and feel quite ill now :))

Friday, 20 February 2015

A Parliament to be Proud of

As I sit in the warmth of my hotel room in Jerusalem it is 2C and snowing outside and I am struck by the contrast with the earlier part of my day.

It is cold as I sit in the Headmasters office in a school in the village of Om Salamonah (Bethlehem). The students and teachers are wearing hats, scarves and numerous layers of clothes to keep warm. I am sitting with the Student Parliament in this new school of about 250 students, the only one in the village and it exists because of the advocacy of the village and the support of the Ministry of Education and our team here in the Holy Land. (The story is so much more complicated and powerful than I can share in this format.)

One young man, an 11 year old diplomat in the making spoke passionately and articulately about the most important thing that the student parliament had done. This group of 9 students were challenged by the difficulties of 'Clara', a young girl with a physical disability who came to school, but to get to school her friends and class mates would drag her in her chair through the mud and the gravel of the unsealed roads from home to school. But, with the passion of an early day Obama, the advocate tells me that "this was not right, this was not fair". The students got together, and with some of the training they had received, thy mapped out an advocacy campaign; first to engage their teachers, and then to convince the Village Committee and local businesses - today the road is sealed and Clara rolls into school proudly. (Every year as she is promoted up the grades her whole class moves to the ground floor of the building so that she can have full access.)

The school will cater for these young, resilient, hopeful kids - doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics and administrators in the making - until they complete year 9 then they have a choice to make. Cross the highway to a nearby village for high school, or drop out of school. None of them want to drop out, but in their context, it is not just a matter of crossing a road - it is much more complicated than that.

Just up the road from the school, in the same village, 'Hajar' lives with her 7 daughters and husband. Today, as the rain and hail bounce off the concrete stairs, their house is freezing cold. They are all rugged up in numerous layers and the little baby is bundled up under a pile of threadbare blankets in the corner of the 'lounge room' asleep. A wood burner stands in the middle of the room - but it is just a frozen metal box.

Sounds depressing? But this is a vast improvement on when we met 'Hajar'. The mother of 5 at the time had just given birth to her 6th daughter - and she was deeply depressed. She wanted, she needed a son and she felt responsible, she felt cursed and a failure. She came to our attention through her friends and over the last few years our team have worked with her, her family and her community. [When you sponsor a child it is not just that
child that benefits, but the entire community - and this success story reveals that transformation.]

Her community rallied around and together they rebuilt Hajar's life and housing. Her house has been renovated to the point where today, although it is cold at least it is clean, dry and safe. She has no furniture, her dining room table is a plank of wood on the floor. The bedroom is a room of carpets covering a tiled floor where all 9 members of the family sleep. But her beautiful girls are now healthy, and all that are of age attend school or kindergarten.