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  • Writer's pictureHumans without Borders

Volunteers' Tales – A Delightful Evening

The Speakers on the Stage at the Courtyard Theater

On 27 October 2022, volunteers of Humans without Borders gathered in the Courtyard Theater in Nataf for an evening of entertainment and mingling.

Larry: This is a very special evening for Humans without Borders with so many volunteers together here at the Courtyard Theater, enjoying Hadassah’s hospitality and delicious baked goods, and chatting about the kids we help – the happy stories and the sad ones. Well, that is just what our volunteering is all about.

At the beginning, we will hear from a few of our volunteers about their experiences in the various fields in which we are active and then, without delay, the wonderful Yael Deckelbaum will entertain us with some of her popular songs. In addition to performing, Yael is active in organizing cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli women within the scope of “Women Wage Peace.” Some of these activities have become landmarks in the fight against the occupation.

Our special thanks to Dror who, single-handedly organized this evening – what a great job he has done. And Hadassah and Eitan who have give us free reign to use their Courtyard Theater – from pyrotechnics, sound and lighting to great quiches and cakes. Without delay, we will start with Amy, one of our four amazing coordinators, along with Michal, Eyal and Danny.

Amy – the Coordinator

Larry: Who doesn’t know Amy?

Amy: Dror's invitation was for me to talk about a coordinator’s challenges. But I really prefer to present our work in a more positive light. There are challenges when driving that we all face: language difficulties, logistics, the effects of the occupation.

You are awakened at seven in the morning, still half asleep, with all sorts of issues. There is a whole slew of challenges, and we get a slightly higher dose than most volunteers because we get calls from everyone.

Actually, this doesn’t happen too often. I have to say that I am sometimes amazed at how things just flow. We have a great computer system in place. The evening before treatment, each family is notified who will drive them. It seldom happens that a volunteer forgets or doesn't show up, or something happens along the way. I would say − Eyal is the data expert − that at least 98 percent, if not more, of the trips are carried out as planned. This also includes the ability to respond to last minute requests. Sometimes there are calls at two in the morning. A child is running a high fever and we respond.

So yes, it's challenging and may be a bit difficult, but I really feel that it's something special. I have a relationship with people who I don't drive and don't know personally. I have contact with families I have never met. But we correspond and send each other hearts and things like that. The volunteers are special people, and they are very organized. They get where they need to without problems and complete their rides without complaint or a need for praise.

So, thanks to everyone. For those of you who are new and want to check us out, come. It's wonderful. And that's it.

Larry: Amy is also very active in our medical committee which does very important work, very quietly. In an increasing number of cases, the Authority's Ministry of Health does not provide children with necessary medical assistance. We try to raise money to help in critical cases. I will not use the expression “life and death” but there is an expression that I really like, an expression that I have heard too many times from too many people. It is “cosmetic surgery.” Do you know what cosmetic surgery is? It’s anything they don't want to finance. We have managed to raise funds to buy medicines, medical devices and also to finance medical procedures and surgery. This is something we did not do a few years ago. Today, we feel that it is really, really necessary to try to save children.

Alona – Fun Days

Larry: Alona is going to talk about one of the most enjoyable parts of our activities. Alona: After several years of activity, we were a small NGO whose active drivers were meeting the children and their families on a very difficult, very troubling day-to-day basis, both because of their illnesses and because of the checkpoints. We wanted to do something normal, something healthier, something with their families. We started going to the seashore in 2012.

Those were days that the families waited for, that the children waited for, that the children's brothers and sisters waited for. And with the maybe 30 families that we then assisted, we filled two buses. These were very special days, from early morning until late afternoon. Volunteers came and frolicked with the children in the sea.

And we were able to get approval from the Civil Administration to do this. We were able to receive permits in advance and the army didn't make any problems. Then we also started doing a winter day, as well. We held this several times at locations in Beit Jala. We had games and activities for children, music and dancing and clowns.

I think that apart from the families and the children, it also did us, the volunteers, a lot of good. We saw the children not only as very ill individuals. We could be happy with them; we could do something with them and not just for them. Unfortunately, for more than five years we have been unable to get permits to take the families outside the Jerusalem area. What we are doing instead is a pool day at the Murad Hotel in Beit Sahour, which is really very nice. Each year we buy all sorts of inflatable balls and tubes and all kinds of water games. And the children play in the water and the playground and have a wild time. Larry: Alona forgot a very central factor of all these fun days -- food. When we were at the beach in Tel Baruch, Alona brought a woman from Jaffa who cooked especially for us and it was simply amazing! Alona: It was not only delicious, it was also very special. A Palestinian woman from Jaffa cooked wonderful traditional dishes. This was a very special connection. In general, all kinds of connections have been made over the years. The lifeguards really embraced us, warmly helping, and remembered us year after year. Larry: Every year at Murad we make sure everyone has a very good meal. We are all together: the volunteers and the families, and the kids, and the clowns, and a great deal more. It is amazing.

Alexandra – Special Activities

Larry: Alexandra, very quietly, with considerable frustration, has tried to organize special activities for both mothers and children. I will say she struggles, fighting a world of bureaucracy and stupidity. Alexandra: I joined HWB a year and a half ago. I'm a bit of a troublemaker. So, I came and saw what the situation was, and it was hard for me just to drive. I said, wow, there is so much to do to provide activities for the children and their mothers during dialysis sessions. So, I said to myself OK let's do it.

I started by organizing workshops for the mothers. Gershon introduced me to a wonderful person, Nimala, a Palestinian woman who lives in Beit Jala and does gymnastics, meditation, yoga, drawing, and all sorts of other activities. After several of us met her, we developed an action plan. And then a fellow in Augusta Victoria, Ibrahim, who oversees family and community activities, started to interfere. We told him, really, this has nothing to do with politics. It's just for the mothers and you can even take all the credit.

We managed to hold two sessions and received very positive feedback from the mothers. But then, we ran up against the bureaucracy; the mothers wanted something with movement which requires a closed, private area. Our request was met with refusal.

At one point I wrote to someone in the Lutheran Church and said “come on, we're trying to organize this thing. Maybe you can help us? We only need a bit of assistance.” And she came back to me and wrote, “We are building a new wing on the hospital and it will be possible in maybe another two years.” So we put that dream aside.

I didn't know there was a ban on taking families to the sea. Not too long ago, Irit and I actually took Saliba and Fatma on an outing. And Fatma brought a little sister with her, and Saliba brought two cousins. And it was such an experience. It was one of my happiest days volunteering because it was really, as Alona said, experiencing the children and in a different place. Saliba got into a tube and he didn't come out of the water the whole time. He jumped and dived and was so rambunctious. The whole thing was so warm and wet and wonderful. It was such a pleasure to see how happy he was and how delighted his mother was. Fatma, this sweet child, also jumped into a tube and talked to the waves and the shells all day. That's what she did. She spent the whole day messing with the shells and the waves and was completely immersed in the experience.

I'm retiring in a few months, so I thought I'd do some crafts with the children during dialysis sessions. I talked to Larry and he said “Excellent, you have an open check.” I talked to Ibrahim and he said, “What a lovely idea.” I bought all sorts of handicraft materials for the children. Then Ibrahim sent me a WhatsApp message saying, “We won't start with it yet”. Larry: Alexandra, I encourage you to continue these activities. Keep trying to push Augusta Victoria; try everything. I believe it can work. Alexandra doesn't give herself enough credit. After the mothers’ workshops several mothers called me to tell me how important these sessions were for them.

Sylvie – the Volunteer

Larry: Sylvie, how many years have you been active, 12, 14? Sylvie has stories that almost no one remembers, and she will tell us some of them now. Sylvie: Well, Dror asked me to tell some stories. Many years ago there were no trips to the sea. One day we were told that the Nephrology Department in Shaari Zedek Hospital was taking all the kids to Eilat, with the nurses and the dialysis devices and everything needed. And they were going to hold a real overnight camp: Freedom camp.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian children do not have permits to spend the night outside their family’s domicile. So it was only for Jews. This was simply too much for us. We felt terrible about it, and, on the spot, decided that we would hold a “fun day” for these children even if they had to go home in the evening. We didn't have a clue what we were doing, no means, no plan, and nothing compared to what we have now. So we just invited all the kids and their families to my garden. Following dialysis, the volunteers brought the families to our home. The volunteers, the parents and the children devoured great food and all sorts of sweets. And I bought a lot of games that we all played. I have pictures of Ichia − probably everyone knows him − two years old or something like that, and Yaakob who is about three. That was the beginning amazing tradition.

That's one story. And the second story I will tell is one of hope, something Dror asked for. One day I arrived at the checkpoint in Bethlehem, checkpoint 300. I was waiting to pick up Suhila, Yaakob's mother and Majed's mother, Rania. I had been waiting for a long time, so I took the initiative and walked up the ramp to find out what was going on. The two families were on the other side of the gate and explained that Suhila did not have a valid permit. It had expired the day before and she had not received a new one. Thus, she was not allowed to enter Israel.

I approached the border policewoman. I explained to her why it was so important for them to get to the hospital, and it was simply out of the question that they are turned back. This child had to receive his treatment. The policewoman replied, “I'm sorry, I can't.” I insisted on talking to her commander. And she started with the same story: “Look, we have rules. They know very well that they have to bring permits, and if she didn't make sure that she had a permit, it's not our problem.” I said it was our problem. This child needs treatment. “So what? Then take the child without the mother.” “Well,” I said, “I want to speak to your supervisor.” Along comes a self-confident young man and he starts with, “Yes, is there a problem?” And I explained what the problem was. He said, “Well, there is nothing we can do.” I told him, “There is no such a thing!” And I started yelling at him. I just screamed my soul out. And I told him, “Your mother would be ashamed of you!” I don't know how it came out, but it did. There was silence and when I looked up, I saw in front of me a large group of Palestinians who just stood there, not moving. They were all on the other side, smiling at little me who was protecting them.

We got a one-day permit and went to the hospital. I can't forget that day, and neither can they.

This was an important moment. I think it's a message to the Palestinians, it's a message to the army that things can be done without the use of force. Dror called this a message of hope.

Larry: One more minute. I'll just add a few things. Both these children, quite exceptionally, received kidney transplants. Yaakob, due to many years of dialysis, still has cartilage problems. He comes to Shaare Zedek hospital every few months for observation and treatment and we are in contact with the family and drive them back and forth. Suhila, his mother, is an amazing woman and Yaakov is a strapping young man.

A few months ago I also met Majed at Shaare Zedek. He comes once every six months for a general check-up. I was standing in the ward and suddenly Rania, Majed's mother accosted me with a great hug and no one ever gets that from a Palestinian woman.


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