The Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund Gala

By Susan Schwartz

More than 500 people attended the banquet/fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) this past Saturday night, filling the banquet hall at the Torrance Marriott hotel in Torrance, CA.

Titled: “Healing Hands, Helping Children one Hand at a Time”, the event featured Hany Abu-Assad, the acclaimed Director of “Rana’s Wedding” and “Paradise Now,” as keynote speaker. He is a Golden Globe winner and has received an Oscar nomination.

A social hour took place in the reception area before the dinner began.

Guests were able to look at illustrations of the medical miracles wrought by PCRF. If one picture is worth a thousand words, the before and after pictures of the children helped by PCRF are an epic. Booths of Palestinian art works and DVDs of the movies of keynote speaker Hany Abu-Assad were sold. Mr. Abu-Assad was present to autograph copies.

Dr. Randa Issa, the Secretary of the Southern California PCRF chapter, was the Master of Ceremonies.

The audience watched a video made for this event by former president Carter, praising PCRF and its humanitarian role. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and actor and humanitarian Richard Gere also sent greetings to the PCRF. The International Children’s Choir brought the audience to its feet with its performance.

Dr. Imad Tabry, a cardiac surgeon from Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida spoke about his experiences with the PCRF. His presentation which he called: “Journey of Hope” was accompanied by a short video. Dr. Tabry narrated a particular experience of his work in Palestine revolving around an open heart surgery he performed on a nine month old boy. The child was born with a hole in his heart, a congenital defect which would cost him his life before his reached the age of one absent medical intervention.

The film illustrated a stark comparison between the Palestinian people and their Israeli oppressors. The parents of the sick child had concern and anguish written on their faces as they tried, with the help of medical personnel, to navigate the checkpoints. The Israeli soldiers seemed to enjoy the power they held over the Palestinians and the medical team.

They also objected to being on camera, but to no avail. After two and a half long hours, the Israelis finally permitted the group, minus the child’s father, to proceed to the hospital where the surgery would take place. The surgery was a success, and the child was released to the loving arms of his mother three days later.

Dr. Tabry spoke of his introduction to the PCRF through its CEO Steve Sosebee. He told of his enthusiasm and the shared enthusiasm of his entire surgical team for the organization’s work. His first trip was to Gaza and it coincided with the second Intifada. He has traveled there a total of eight times.

Dr. Tabry spoke also of the goodness of the Palestinian people, their harassment through Israeli checkpoints and the curtailment of their freedom due to Israeli oppression.

Steve Sosebee, calling his presentation “Healing Hands at Work”, spoke briefly about the work of the PCRF. He introduced two children who were in the audience and who have had life enhancing medical treatment through the PCRF. He told of the deteriorating quality of life for Palestinians through the humiliation of checkpoints, severe economic hardships,and the presence of the Wall.

Groups represented at the gala included; The Palestine Aid Society; the Palestinian American Women’s Association; the Birzeit Society; the Union of Palestinian Women; USOMEN; the Free Palestine Association; the Washington Report on the Middle East; the Bethlehem Association, and the National Association of Arab Americans.

PCRF will be familiar to readers of TMO. Recently we chronicled the story of twelve year old Marwa Naim of Iraq who suffered grave injuries in a bomb explosion which took the lives of her mother and siblings. Marwa was one of the success stories available to guests through pictures in the reception area, pictures which illustrated the work of PCRF and the gift of a normal life which Marwa received.

The group founded in 1991 is based in Kent, Ohio. It was founded to meet the medical needs of Palestinian children whose conditions could not be optimally treated locally. In addition to bringing these children to medical facilities outside of the Middle East, the PCRF brings medical teams to the Middle East to treat patients and to train local medical personnel.

The mission of PCRF has expanded to include identifying and treating all children in the Middle East who are in need of medical help.

To list but a few of the accomplishments of this exemplary organization: sending medical equipment and supplies to the West Bank and Gaza; running a summer camp for disabled Palestinian youth; distribution of food, clothing and medicine to refugees of Lebanon created by the recent hostilities; sending medical personnel on missions to Palestine and to Refugee Camps throughout the Middle East; providing wheel chairs (including child friendly ones) to the needy, and the opening and operation of a new pediatric cardiac intensive care unit in Makassaed Hospital in East Jerusalem.

The PCRF inaugurated a Women’s Empowerment Project in 2001 to provide start up economic grants to poor single mothers with large families in Gaza and the West Bank. Shortly after the Project’s inception the program was expanded to include poor refugee families in Lebanon.

There are two PCRF chapters in the US, one in Southern California and one in DC. Two chapters are in the process of formation, one in Boston and one in San Francisco.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund has received a four star rating from the Charity Navigator, its highest rating. Charity Navigator scrutinizes the organization and business conduct of charities, and its seal of approval assures contributors that their monies will go to the specified beneficiaries with only essential overhead expenses.

This summer the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, authorized the PCRF to provide pro bono medical care to indigent children in the West Bank, Gaza, the United States or a third nation.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund may be accessed at: P.O. Box 1926, Kent, Ohio 44240; (330) -678-2645.

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