IN THE NEWS ~ Blog titled ‘Canada Should Partner with Canadian NGOs to Help Rebuild Gaza’

Consider for a moment what it would be like to live under the following conditions: daily power cuts for hours at a time; salaries unpaid; restrictions on movement; limited access to clean water; overcrowded schools; high unemployment. Add to that the fact that many homes are destroyed and there is a severe lack of construction materials to rebuild, and you get the picture of what it is like to live in Gaza today.

Six months after the ceasefire in Gaza, the struggle to rebuild has only just begun. A few weeks ago, in a joint statement, 30 aid agencies decried the limited progress in rebuilding the tiny coastal enclave in which 1.8-million people, including 100,000 Palestinians still displaced from last summer, live in terrible conditions. Oxfam has recently said that, at the rate things are going, it will take more than 100 years to reconstruct destroyed homes in Gaza.

Children are most affected by these conditions. According to the report from the 30 aid agencies, nearly 1 million children are traumatized and 400,000 need immediate psychosocial support. Agencies like UNICEF are trying to deliver counselling to children in Gaza, but funds are limited. Teenagers, they say, are at risk of making dangerous decisions, given widespread feelings of hopelessness, loss, and helplessness. Without choices and meaningful opportunities, we are looking at a lost generation.

This situation is deplorable, and it is made worse by the lack of action by the international community, including Canada. Little of the $5.4 billion pledged during last October's donor conference has made its way to Gaza. While the West Bank and Gaza are one of Canada's "countries of focus," most of our (limited) development funding has gone to the justice sector in the West Bank, while our long-term development programming in Gaza is virtually non-existent.

Now is the time for Canada to focus on long-term recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction in Gaza. Housing, health, water and sewage facilities, provision of social services, education, and psycho-social support are all areas where we can help. Canada must commit to long-term development programming in Gaza -- and a quick survey of some of Canada's NGOs suggests there are many positive and effective options for partnership.

We know the great work done by larger Canadian humanitarian organizations in the region, such as Save the Children, CARE, and Oxfam, to name but a few. Canada should also start looking at innovative programming ideas coming from a range of smaller Canadian NGOs with long-standing ties with on-the-ground partners in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories who are well-situated to help deliver effective and innovative long-term assistance in Gaza. These NGOs come from a particular tradition of peace building and social justice, with some representing different Canadian faith communities. I focus on some of these organizations here.

Take, for example, Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), a specialized agency of Canada's Lutheran community. Gazans are suffering from limited access to health care. CLWR has an established partnership with the August Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. According to CLWR's website, this hospital provides "medical service to those living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. AVH primarily serves the Palestinian population, but offers care to all regardless of creed, religion, race, nationality, gender or ability to pay."

Similarly, the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, a Canadian Anglican agency, has been supporting Al Ahli Arab Hospital, an Anglican ministry located in Gaza City -- a relationship that dates back to 1990. Both CLWR and PWRDF are examples of Canadian groups helping to improve health conditions in Gaza. This is the kind of work the Canadian government should support.

Another example is the Mennonite Central Committee, an Anabaptist and pacifist organization that is currently working on housing needs in Gaza alongside their partner organization, Al Najd Development Forum, which was founded by women. According to MCC's website, "MCC and Al Najd recently completed housing repairs for 20 families whose homes were badly damaged in the conflict, and is committed to doing the same for 50 additional families." Again, this is important work on housing that merits more support.

There is also the work of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. KAIROS is a network of 12 Canadian member churches working for peace and justice. This organization has a long history of working in the Middle East with established partners, for example, the Jerusalem Centre for Women, the Coalition of Women for Peace, and Wi'am: Palestinian Conflict Resolution Centre.

One long-standing KAIROS partner of note is the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR), a body of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). In Gaza City, DSPR's work focuses on "mothers and babies, vocational education and the provision of psychological and social health services to an increasingly traumatized population." During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, one of DSPR's clinics -- built in part with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency -- was destroyed in bombing. It is still in ruins as a result of the blockade.

The organizations I mention here are only a few of the many Canadian groups working on peacebuilding, social justice and development. Many other Canadian organizations are also doing great relief work in the Middle East, often with very little funding. Given the dire situation in Gaza, now is the time for the Canadian government to begin looking at what these Canadian NGOs can offer.

New Democrats have been clear about our position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I have called for previously, Canada should be funding the UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA). Finally, Canada should push for an end to the blockade, which is directly linked to poverty in Gaza.

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