[Episcopal News Service] For every one physically or developmentally disabled child treated at the Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children in East Jerusalem, another 20 are treated at intermediate or local centers throughout the West Bank.
“We are the only center of excellence that provides comprehensive rehab in Palestine; we compete with others in the Arab World and no one is getting our results,” said Maha Yasmineh, Princess Basma’s acting chief executive officer. “We’ve reached a level we have to keep up, no one else can do it.”
In 2005, the Princess Basma Center was recognized for its high-quality, innovative service to disabled children and their families. The center was opened in 1965 and in 1987 it was the first school to integrate disabled children into mainstream classrooms.
“It’s been such a success we’re becoming mentors to other schools,” said Yasmineh, adding that many of the school’s disabled graduates have gone on to university.
School was not in session and the hallways quiet except for a few mothers and their children when Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori visited Princess Basma in late December during a 12-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories over Christmas and New Year.
The presiding bishop visited the diocese at the invitation of Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani.
“The Diocese of Jerusalem has a long and important relationship with the American Episcopal Church, your support to this diocese has been steadfast and generous,” said Dawani, to Jefferts Schori, during the visit.
During her visit to Princess Basma, which was named for the princess of Jordan who inaugurated the center in the ‘60s, the presiding bishop learned about the Mother’s Empowerment Program and some of the challenges the center is facing.
Each year some 250 to 300 mothers and their children spend between two and four weeks living at the center. The children receive comprehensive rehabilitation and the mothers learn to care for their children, many of whom suffer congenital anomalies.
“A lot of the mothers don’t know anything about the disability,” said Dr. Waddah Malhees, the medical director of the rehabilitation program. “We teach them how to care for their children, and follow up with rehab.”
(In 2012, Malhees added, Princess Basma became the first center to treat autistic Palestinian children, and is the only center providing care for autistic children and training for their families.)
More recently, however, because of a budget shortfall the mothers and children must leave the center on Thursday evenings to return on Saturdays, meaning they must pay for transportation costs and navigate check points between Jerusalem and their homes in the West Bank, the staff said.
Eighty-seven percent of the center’s budget is generated by service fees and school fees. The 13 percent budget deficit forecast for 2013, represents about $268,000, Yasmineh said.
“Thirteen percent is a lot of money,” she said. “We’re seeing children in need in the Palestinian Territories, and if we don’t do it, no one will do it.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem operates 35 health and education institutions across five countries and the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and also in Gaza, where its Ahli Arab Hospital is one of just three Christian-run institutions.
Click here for a separate story on the Gaza hospital.
“These institutions carry a wonderful and an awesome ministry in a place of multi-faith and multi-ethnic backgrounds and it is so vital for the church to continue offering these services because these institutions as well as the churches, they provide a moderate and very important role in society,” said the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, in a Jan. 1 interview in the courtyard of St. George’s guesthouse.
“We exist to build up a community of tolerance, reconciliation and a community that has mutual understanding of each other’s faith and culture and tradition,” Naoum added. “These institutions, as well as the parish ministry, provide healthy, fertile ground for future and potential leaders of the community. And people who are well-educated, people who are healthy in their relationships. And this is what we dream of really, of establishing a community that enables both Jews and Palestinians to live side by side and to create a society where everyone matters.”
Schools are the majority of the diocesan institutions, and St. John’s School in Haifa has educated generations of Muslim, Jewish and Christian children. Each morning the 575 students, 50 percent of them Muslim, gather in morning assembly and school is recognized not only for its high-quality education (scientific research is introduced in kindergarten) but for its “peace” education.
“We are doing a wonderful job, but [we] don’t evangelize,” said Wajeeh Awad, who has served the school for 52 years, during a luncheon in Haifa in late December. Awad is the former principal and now serves on the school’s board of directors.
In addition to Princess Basma, the hospital in Gaza and the school in Haifa, the presiding bishop also visited St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus; a new diabetes clinic set to open soon on the site of St. Andrew’s Church in Ramallah; and the construction site of a new 40-bed elder care and community center on the site of St. Peter’s Church in Birzeit, a suburb of Ramallah.
Reflecting on the visits, the presiding bishop said, “It’s apparent that the Christians are the primary bridge builders, and see their ministry as serving all of God’s people, all of Abraham’s children.
“The work that the Diocese of Jerusalem is doing is profoundly important.”
In the Palestinian Territories, 10 to 15 percent of the population suffers from diabetes, with high levels of stress thought to be a factor, in contrast to three percent worldwide, said Dr. Hisham Nassar, who serves as a health care consultant to the diocese. Nassar was speaking during a luncheon at St. Andrew’s Church in Ramallah in late December.
The diabetes clinic located at the church will be open six days a week and expects to serve between 300 and 400 people a month. The clinic also will host monthly information sessions, said Dawani, during a late December tour of the state-of-the-art clinic.
At St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, nine midwives deliver an average of 180 babies a month. If a mother has a normal delivery, her hospital stay is six hours. The hospital also has a neonatal intensive care unit for complicated cases.
With 150 employees, the 60-bed medical and surgical hospital serves annually in Nablus and its surrounding villages more than 70,000 patients “regardless of race or social status.”
However, a CT scan, broken since 2010, sits idle on the hospital’s lower level, which poses a problem for the hospital that operates the only trauma center in the northern West Bank, an area with a population of 500,000 for which it also serves as a referral center for all neurosurgery cases.
“Here we’ve got people providing medical care at a low cost, serving everyone who walks through the door. How are they doing neurology and cardiology [without a functioning CT scan]? Seeing that this machine doesn’t work really inspired me [to help],” said Bishop James Magness, the Episcopal Church’s bishop suffragan for federal ministries, following a visit to the hospital.
“Their level of commitment is inspiring and really makes me want to help. Seeing the schools and hospitals and how they work and bring people together.”
The various diocesan ministries face many challenges, some a result of the world-wide economic crisis, some the consequence of politics in Israel and Palestine. But the budget shortfall at Princess Basma, which has also led to 12 staff members losing their jobs, and which may force the closure of the center’s orthopedics workshop; the broken CT scan at St. Luke’s; and the Gaza hospital’s transition after losing financial support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency haven’t affected the institution’s ability to provide quality care for patients.
“The place where you see hope is in the medical field,” said the Rev. Canon Robert Edmunds, the Episcopal Church’s Middle East global partnerships officer, in an interview with ENS in Jerusalem. “To treat whomever comes through the door. And the level of care offered is the level of care that they can provide. They all do the best with what they’ve got.”
— Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.