Written by Dalal Hillou, the international social media coordinator for Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
One of the most distinctive memories that I have of my childhood is the news coverage of the second Intifada. Although my parents had immigrated from Palestine many years before, my mother always had the Arabic media news channels on the TV during my formative years, with stations that extensively covered the Intifada. My mother never hid the truth of the conflict from my siblings and I, despite our young ages. Rather, she made sure that we were exposed to it so that we knew exactly what the world was like, as well as the struggle that was an inherent part of our history.
On one of those days, my mother said something to me that I would carry with me for years to come. I don’t recall exactly what was on the television, but I remember her turning to me and saying, “This is why you have to be a doctor, Dalal. To help the people of Falesteen. And if not a doctor, you have to be a lawyer. But you have to help the people of Falesteen.” In that moment I realized two things: 1) I didn’t have to be a doctor after all, despite my parents’ early insistence that my siblings and I pursue such a path (thanks, Mama, for the loophole!); and 2) I needed to give back to those who needed it.
Many years later, as a university student, I was inspired to plan a fundraising event called “A Wish for Palestine,” and located an organization to donate the proceeds to: Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). Founded in 1991, the organization is dedicated to addressing the medical and humanitarian crisis afflicting Arab children in the Middle East and was the perfect way to give back to Palestine. I fell in love with its work and began to volunteer however I could. This led to helping out with PCRF’s social media as a volunteer, after which I was eventually hired as the nonprofit’s social media coordinator. I immediately felt inspired and accepted — more than 70 percent of PCRF’s staff is composed of hardworking women who serve as nurses, social workers, accountants and more.
That was the summer of 2014, and Gaza was under assault during the month of Ramadan. Through photos provided by our hardworking and incredible staff in Gaza, I witnessed only some of the many horrors that plagued the small strip of land. Schools, offices, buildings and homes were destroyed, in whole or in part. Hospitals were overflowing and low on resources. The building of our Rafah office, in southern Gaza, was attacked; thank God, no one was inside. However, the photos of injured, maimed, heartbroken, exhausted children were what was most unforgettable.
One of those children was named Qusay. I’ll never forget him. His story is what motivates me through days when I am slow to work, or the times when I want to give up on the incredibly difficult challenge that is law school or the moments of when I simply don’t want to care anymore. In the first image I ever saw of him, he was three-and-a-half months old — he was just a baby. He was bandaged, burned and injured. Face bright red and the bandages white — a dirty white, not the clean kind. His face, hands and feet had been burned and he had shrapnel in his abdomen. Qusay’s parents were both killed as they attempted to escape a barrage of rockets. He was the sole survivor. He was alone. He was an orphan.
As a result of the 51-day air, land and sea assaults on the Gaza Strip, over 2,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of children like Qusay were orphaned. PCRF, whose main focus had been to address the medical needs of children in the Middle East, had to immediately address this looming crisis. I was not the only person who was greatly troubled by the fact that after the tragic events of that summer, Gaza was home to countless young orphans who had neither stability nor a secure source of financial support. In November 2014, the PCRF-Atlanta Chapter, the chapter at which I was first introduced to the important work of this organization, took the initiative to launch the “Gaza Orphan Sponsorship Program” to ensure that the livelihood and daily basic needs of these orphans were met. The initiative has since been an ongoing program undertaken by the PCRF organization.
After the initial funds were raised by the Atlanta chapter, an extensive assessment effort was made by our tireless and fearless field workers in all of Gaza, who visited houses, hospitals and schools that became make-shift shelters for displaced families with destroyed homes. By December of that year, 155 children were identified as eligible for the program, which meant that they lost their fathers and they were not registered to receive assistance by other organizations. In addition to losing the family’s main breadwinner, many of the orphans had also lost additional members of the family including their mothers and siblings.
Soon after in January 2015, these identified orphans including Qusay– who was taken in by relatives — began receiving financial assistance in the form of supermarket coupons for the amount of $135 a month, alongside other humanitarian aid as part of an urgent relief program that was implemented during wartime. In addition to food, the children also received clothes, medicine and mental health assessment and treatment if needed, and were provided with basic household supplies such as mattresses, stoves, heaters, etc. To this date, PCRF has invested nearly $700,000 feeding and ensuring that the needs of the 155 orphans and their families are being met.
This Ramadan, PCRF dedicated its fundraising efforts to the Gaza Orphans. The goal of “Give Hope: Gaza Orphan Sponsorship Ramadan Campaign,” a global online fundraising campaign with the hashtag #hope4orphans, is to ensure that the program is sustainable for years to come. Donors can sponsor orphans who have all experienced incredible difficulties at young ages so that they are provided for throughout their lives. These children are living in extreme poverty and hardship, and the PCRF works to help heal their wounds of war and occupation by providing food, clothing, medicine or other non-political, humanitarian aid that they need to live improved lives. There is no better time to be generous than during the month of Ramadan and no better recipient than an orphan in need.
Click here to get involved and donate now.