January 20, 2009

JDC: A Lifeline In Times of Crisis

This report from a member of JDC-Israel's senior staff is a firsthand account of how JDC is working to create a lifeline to those most affected by the war in Gaza.
I remember the first time I went south during the war last week – admittedly I felt a little fearful. Three trips and two sirens later, my mind was more focused and my stomach less jittery.

We visited the JDC Havens of Calm program situated in an elementary school in Sderot. This is literally a dedicated room in the school itself that has been fitted and designated as a safe and therapeutic space in which students can freely enter and openly express their fears and worries as they receive trauma support. I met with the art therapist, the principal and the pet therapist that have been working in this haven of calm for the last 4 years. The are experiencing increased levels of behavioral and social problems, disturbances in class and trauma amongst the kids because of the rockets that land around them on a daily basis.

One girl who receives treatment in the room is extremely 'lucky' after a qassam landed right next to her house. Now she has regular episodes where she is unable to move her legs. The therapists go up to the class, massage her legs to restore partial movement and bring her to the Haven of Calm where she works with the animals or just sits and listens to music in the corner. She told the therapist "I don’t want this body anymore".

I also visited Beer Sheva, where unlike Sderot who have been rocketed for 8 years, they are relatively new to these traumatic experiences. The JDC Center for Independent Living (CIL) is a facility that identifies the need for and provides community-based services for people with disabilities. The CIL empowers its clients to live as independent a life as possible within their communities.

On December 27th, the CIL ceased all regular services and "turned on a dime" to become the emergency center for the disabled population in Beer Sheva. Student volunteers from the neighboring Ben Gurion University immediately called 750 CIL clients to check their status and needs. These volunteers have now been mobilized by CIL to deliver shopping, medicines and blankets. I have mentioned in previous updates the impossibility for the elderly and disabled to reach safe rooms before the rockets land and these volunteers were converting safe rooms into 24/7 living rooms for disabled clients by moving food, water bottles, beds and TV's into the bomb shelters.

Roi, a volunteer student for CIL, is a 25 year old psychology and philosophy student. He took me to the home of Mazal who is 53 years old and totally bedridden. Mazal has no bomb shelter or protected room so our task was to make one of the rooms as 'safe' as possible and equip the room with every necessity she might need. Her son is mentally disabled and visits her regularly but was unable to set up the room appropriately. It is incredibly depressing thinking of Mazal living through siren after siren but at least her son is able to be with her – unlike many others who have no-one.

When I asked why Roi stays in Beer Sheva and doesn't return to his home town of Acco he told me "In the summer of 2006, my home town was rocketed from the North and we were so reliant on the volunteers who came to help us from around the country. How can I leave now and not give back what I received?"

Despite the gloom, every cloud does have its silver lining. I have witnessed amazing things and inspirational people arise from this emergency. Whether it be new services, creative partnerships, additional duties, fresh character or advanced strategic thinking all lying latent that have been brought to the surface by this war. I live in hope that some good will come out of this terribly dark time.

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