NEWSLETTER APRIL/MAY 2018
LEARNING LESSONS IS THE MANTRA OF A PALESTINIAN EDUCATOR
Maysa Abu Ghannam unwittingly became an activist and role model when she challenged the Palestinian healthcare system, resulting in a global initiative dedicated to improving the health of Palestinians using Israeli expertise.
Project Rozana, named in honour of Maysa’s daughter, has done more than focus on the inequity between the two healthcare systems. It has shed light on the path that many are preparedto follow, where health is the key to building positive relationships between people.
One such advocate is Dr Mariam Mar’i Ryan, a US-based Palestinian Israeli educator and mentor. Dr Ryan is one of the founders of the Acre Arab Women’s Association (AAWA), a not-for-profit NGO whose goal is to help Arab women improve their status in society (see separate story).
Although the activism of the well-regarded educational psychologist and retired university professor predates that of Maysa, she is buoyed by the example of the Ramallah-based mother of two who refused to accept what she considered to be second-best healthcare.
“What Maysa showed the world, in demanding that her daughter be treated in an Israeli rather than a Palestinian hospital, is that sickness has no nationality, no religion and no borders,” Dr Ryan says.
“It was an uncomfortable truth for many people, but I applaud Maysa’s courage and that of the Australians who created an organisation whose purpose is to raise funds and advocate for an equitable healthcare system in the Middle East.”
Among the many projects that Dr Ryan supports, is one that is aligned with the values and purpose of Project Rozana. Known as ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’, it was created by AAWA, specifically a group of women from the region surrounding Acre, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, approx. 20kms south of the Lebanese border.
The women had been visiting chronically-ill Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals, mainly Hadassah in Jerusalem and Tel Hashomer–Sheba near Tel Aviv. During the visits when they delivered toys, games, clothing, reading material and organised entertainment, they became aware of the difficulties faced by patients and their companions, many of whom had travelled from the West Bank and Gaza. The permit system, an often labyrinthine process imposed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, takes its toll emotionally as well as physically on family members and caregivers.
MAYSA AND ROZANA ABU GHANNAM AT HADASSAH HOSPITAL.
MARIAM MAR’I RYAN.
Dr Ryan says that the AAWA women were “stunned by the harsh reality” facing the visitors.
“The women were determined to find ways to provide support for the companions,” she says. “It was the small things that mattered, often the chance to talk and share a simple meal, a piece of fruit or coffee.”
“We must remember that inside an Israeli hospital, as supportive as the system is, patients and companions from the West Bank and Gaza come face-to-face with a dominant society far removed from their own. Our Israeli Arab women volunteers relate to them in a familiar language and a well understood cultural–religious context”.
“The difference it makes to the healing process is significant,” Dr Ryan says. “This kind of psycho–social support cannot be over-emphasised. For many patients and companions it is a lifeline.”
It was during these visits that the AAWA women learned about Road to Recovery, an Israeli NGO that transports mainly Palestinian children from the checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. Staffed by volunteer drivers, there is no cost to the patient or a family member who often accompanies them.
“A taxi fare from the checkpoints is beyond the financial means of many people,” Dr Ryan says, “especially when a chronic illness requires multiple hospital visits. Urgent healthcare is often postponed, which can cause even more hardship and distress for families.”
Dr Ryan said that learning about Road to Recovery exposed AAWA to the wider role of Project Rozana. Aligning with this global initiative also allows AAWA to tap into a potentially important funding source.
To implement the ideals behind ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’, AAWA is hoping to raise funds to employ a part–time psychologist or social worker to assist the companions, to provide secretarial support for its volunteer base, and to provide compensation for transportation expenses incurred by the volunteers.
Ron Finkel, Chair of Project Rozana International, believes ‘Hope, Care and Good Deed’ is worthy of support.
“As much as Israeli hospitals try to support companions, the disparity in incomes can make it difficult for them to afford the cost of food when their stay in the hospital happens over an extended period,” he says.
“AAWA’s commitment to provide food parcels, some clothing and personal items is very important. There is also an urgent need for professional psychological support. Young patients in particular need the emotional support of an older companion, so if that person is distressed, it can influence the patient’s recovery.”