- Community Empowerment
Friday, September 25, 2009
UNRWA @ 60
New York, United States
Remember the Living
Thank you, Karen.
You know, this is one event I wish I wasn’t at.
I wish there was no need for UNRWA... I wish there was no anniversary to mark…and I wish that there were not 4.6 million Palestinian refugees in need of humanitarian aid.
But, you and I know, the reality is very different.
Theirs is a life interrupted...a life half lived.
Hours wasted at checkpoints… …another work day lost…another pay cheque cancelled.
Worried about what the family will eat… weighing up how far food will stretch…praying for an aid parcel.
Wanting your children to go to school… afraid of the dangers they face …frustrated at the lack of teachers and textbooks.
Waiting for the trucks to get through because you need diapers for your baby… or blankets to keep your children warm at night.
Weeping as you watch your grandfather moan in agony, cancer riddles his body. His suffering could be relieved, if only he had a travel permit to get to hospital.
Yes, the reality for Palestinian refugees is painful and protracted.
But for 60 years, UNRWA has alleviated that pain.
Not just by providing shelter, but…sanctuary.
Not just food, but…nourishment.
Not just healthcare, but… compassion.
And not just immediate needs, but the tools for long-term empowerment: primarily, education.
UNRWA has invested millions in getting children into quality schools by building new classrooms, training teachers, and enriching curricula. But that’s only half the story.
Schools in Palestine provide a vital psychological service for little people whose childhoods have been crushed by trauma, loss, and conflict. For them, school provides a comforting routine … supportive words from teachers…a welcome distraction…a time to play.
UNRWA’s presence reminds the Palestinian people that they are not alone; that in their darkest hours, an international aid agency stands by their side.
So, I want to record my deep gratitude to the tireless staff at UNRWA, people who have, and continue to endure indescribable hardship and danger, and risk their lives to help Palestinian refugees every day.
And I, especially, want to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives courageously helping others. Thank you. You are not forgotten.
Ironic isn’t it? To remember the dead…when so many have forgotten the living.
Gaza. Over 3,500 homes still not rebuilt…almost 53,000 homes damaged…4,000 shelters falling apart … countless factories destroyed… infrastructure fractured… almost 300 schools and kindergartens in disrepair… water and electricity intermittent… one in two people unemployed…seven out of ten living in poverty…farm exports at a virtual standstill…1.5 million people cut off, trapped… children waiting for prosthetic limbs…ventilators for newborn babies out of order…
In January, I made a YouTube video for UNRWA, describing Gaza as “Hell on Earth”. I never imagined that, eight months on, after pledges of almost $4.7 billion, it would still be: Hell. On. Earth. But that is the shameful truth.
Not one penny of the billions pledged for reconstruction has reached Gaza!
A ban on the entry of building materials means reconstruction has not even started!
And right now it’s Eid al Fitr…the holiday Muslims celebrate after Ramadan, traditionally a festive time, when families eat meat and parents give their children gifts.
There is nothing to celebrate in Gaza today. There is no money for meat or gifts.
And, now, the agency that is the lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon is, once more, on the verge of financial collapse.
If we let UNRWA collapse, it will be the youngest that bear the greatest weight.
If we let UNRWA collapse, we risk fuelling frustrations… losing focus for peace talks… and destabilizing o