Nader Rached, aged 21, thought steroids would give him the bigger muscles he desired. So, like countless young Palestinian men he started taking steroids that supercharged his muscle growth at unnatural speeds. He got hooked. And, he almost died.

Volunteers offered alternative healthy eating options to get youth off life-threatening steroids. 

 “First I drank protein shakes but they didn’t give me the results I wanted,” he explains. ” I only gained four kilos within a six-month period. I wanted to bulk up my muscles to look nice, to look like most of the men at the gym so I started swallowing steroids pills and they were effective.” Nader says he gained six kilos in one week and his muscles bulked up fast. “I was satisfied with the result and my body was in a good shape,” he adds.

In Nahr El Bared camp, Lebanon, Nader Rached says ANERA's anti-steroids campaign saved his life.

Nader says ANERA’s anti-steroids campaign saved his life.

Steroids are easily to get and can be bought in gyms at cheap prices, often promoted by the gym owners themselves. The use of steroids is spreading rapidly among youth who want to look like wrestlers and bodybuilders in a short period of time.

Shortly after taking the steroids, Nader felt  felt like his system was shutting down. Taking more steroids, he soon realized, was flirting with death on a daily basis.

“I came to this café in Naher el Bared camp and heard some guys talking about several cases where death was the end result of steroids addiction and I got scared.” Nader remembers, “That is when I decided to stop.” 

Health Champions Promote Healthy Lifestyle

Nader heard about ANERA’s anti-steroids campaign through awareness posters and volunteers, and took part in the program. He is one of the first participants to break the habit and stop his addiction to steroids.  The campaign is part of ANERA’s education and sports project, funded by Reach Out to Asia (ROTA). The program brought together 14 volunteers from all fields, known as health champions, to spread awareness and knowledge about the negative social, economic and health effects of steroid use among youth.  

Volunteer health champions talk about their anti-steroids campaign in Nahr El Bared camp, Lebanon.

Volunteer health championsdiscuss anti-steroids campaign

Mohammad Taha, a full time engineering student and a part time volunteer in several social initiatives in Nahr El Bared. He joined ANERA’s effort and participated in building the team of health champions

Steroid use in the camp, he says, has become associated with manhood and physical appearance to imitate famous sports figures like wrestlers or football players, especially when attracting the eye of a young woman. “Here, the bigger you are, the more respect you have so men are very much invested in bulking up muscles,” explains Mohammad. “It is a survival mechanism.” 

With the help of Mohammad Farhat, a personal trainer specialized in mixed martial arts, health champions learned all about anabolic steroid addiction, its side effects and the social and economic consequences. The volunteers then launched their campaign, offering alternatives to steroid use, proposing healthy workout regimens and diets based on proteins, carbohydrates and cereals.  ANERA published a series of informational posters and an anti-steroids toolkit that the champions used to communicate the health messages and alternative solutions.

“We used several communication strategies,” explains Mohammad. “We went first to gyms and talked to owners. Some were really helpful and banned the use of steroids in their premises. In schools we prepared presentations and visual materials to raise awareness on steroids at an early stage.”

Mohammad says they also put up posters in the streets, especially during the holy month of Ramadan when youth are out in the streets a lot. “People started approaching us, asking questions and interacting with us, and some of them congratulated us on the good job we are doing.” To gain more credibility in the community the volunteers also went to mosque leaders and asked them to talk about the bad effects of steroids during Friday prayers.

Like drug addiction, steroids use is a social taboo so nobody ever talks about it, which makes its difficult for the campaign coordinators to measure its direct impact. But volunteers like Mohammad have started seeing positive results of the campaign: “Nowadays more people are aware of steroids addiction and know that it has severe health consequences can lead to death. ”Mohammad adds. “Just having people break the taboo is a success.”  But, Mohammad cautions that the work of the health champions is just getting started.

ANERA’s Annual Dinner this year was held at the Omni Shoreham hotel on October 17. Among the 410 guests, we welcomed staff from our offices in Lebanon and West Bank, including Samar Naser, our longest serving employee with more than 28 years of service in our Jerusalem office. And Rania Elhilou from our Gaza office got through Israeli restrictions and was able to join us.

It was an especially poignant evening, given the recent war and devastation in Gaza. President Bill Corcoran briefed everyone on the emergency relief efforts ANERA has undertaken in Gaza. He also outlined how the funds raised at last year’s gathering helped enhance our long-term sustainable development programs.

“Investing in Women, Strengthening Communities” was the theme of this year’s event. To highlight the role of women in Palestinian society, the opening video of the evening featured several women directly connected to ANERA as employees, as community partners and as beneficiaries.

Rania Elhilou tells the story of what she, her family and ANERA's staff endured during 51-days of bombing in Gaza.

Rania Elhilou tells the story of what she, her family and ANERA’s staff endured during 51-days of bombing in Gaza.

Two actors presented narratives that highlighted successful women who have benefited from ANERA’s support – a young nursing student in Lebanon and a preschool director in the West Bank whose dilapidated school is being replaced with a brand new facility. Master of Ceremonies Fiona Tarazi and her family were acknowledged for their generous funding of this school.

The third narrative was presented by ANERA’s Gaza staffer Rania Elhilou who related some of the terrifying experiences that Gaza families endured during the summer bombings. Rania also detailed the courageous and energetic response of our Gaza team to the crisis even before the war ended.

Gaby, Stacey and Genny Ajram (from the left) accept their gift from ANERA Board Chair Joe Saba and President Bill Corcoran.

Gaby, Stacey and Genny Ajram (from the left) accept their gift from ANERA Board Chair Joe Saba and President Bill Corcoran.

ANERA honored Reach Out To Asia for its partnership in vocational programs and youth sports activities in Lebanon; the Ajram Family Foundation for its generous support of our relief work in Gaza and our work in Lebanon with refugees from Syria; and Hope Cobb and a group of ANERA donors who organized the funding that launched the Gaza Women’s Loan Fund 20 years ago. The fund still flourishes today.

The more than $400,000 raised at the event will be used to support ANERA programs benefiting and empowering women and their families in Palestine and Lebanon.

Please plan to join us at our annual gathering of old and new friends on October 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. This year, we are raising funds to open doors for women through education, health and development programs.

ANERA’s 2014 Annual Dinner Honorees

October 21st, 2014 by ANERA

At this year’s Annual Dinner, ANERA was proud to honor both individuals and foundations whose contributions enable us do what we do best — help Palestinians build a better future. ANERA recognized Reach Out To Asia, the Ajram Family Foundation, and Hope Cobb and a group of ANERA donors who organized the funding that launched the 20-year-old Gaza Women’s Loan Fund.

 

The Ajram Family Foundation

Gaby, Genny and Stacey Ajram established the Foundation to alleviate poverty through improvements in health and education. Their profound generosity allowed ANERA to expand relief aid for Gaza and refugees from Syria in Lebanon. They also have a commitment to long-term development, especially projects that create educational opportunities for Palestinian children.

Hope Cobb and Gaza Women’s Loan Fund donors

Twenty years ago, Hope Cobb led a group of ANERA supporters in a campaign to capitalize the Gaza Women’s Loan Fund, a joint initiative with a community-based organization in Gaza. The Fund has provided loans totaling more than $7 million to nearly 6,000 women with a repayment rate of more than 95%.

Reach Out To Asia (ROTA)

ROTA, part of the Qatar Foundation, helps communities in the Middle East and Asia improve children’s access to high quality basic education and empower their youth to become leaders in society. ROTA has partnered with ANERA since 2010 to provide impoverished Palestinian youth with technical and vocational skills needed to gain employment.

 

The 2014 bombing destroyed many homes and farmland n Gaza. But it also damaged or destroyed several preschools and other education facilities. For some, it was not the first time.

ANERA’s Gaza team moved fast to repair preschools to help accommodate displaced children.

In the 2009 bombings, the staff at the Tufulah Hadeetha preschool in Zaytoon area of Gaza City had to leave the area and rent another building in order to welcome back their students after the bombings stopped. The building had been damaged almost beyond repair.

A Temporary School Becomes More Permanent

The staff transferred what was left of the playgrounds equipment to the new location, which was relatively safe but not better as far as infrastructure. The paint was peeling off the walls, the roof was made of palm trees leaves and the bathrooms and water fountains were not up to standard either. “The walls were real and the fence was not safe, children were deprived from playing outside and remain cramped in the classrooms. No one could deny that playgrounds are the essence of any preschool,” explained head teacher Abeer Abed El E Wahed.

Photo before and after renovations of Gaza preschool bathroom.

Photo before and after renovations of Gaza preschool bathroom.

Then Abeer learned that the 2014 bombings had destroyed the original preschool facility so there was no going back. And yet, the conditions at the new location were deplorable. The school had been on ANERA’s list for repair work before the war started. During its damage assessments after the 2014 war ended, ANERA staff heard about the deteriorated conditions and the early childhood development team took action, putting the preschool on the priority list for renovation, which included painting the classrooms, building new toilets and water fountains, a playground shed and a protective fence.

Now Abeer stands at the newly painted gate to welcome the preschoolers. Her cheerful yet thoughtful manner, she says, was developed by growing up in a family that was oriented toward children, and her experience watching her mother run a preschool n Egypt gives her a unique personality.

Abeer misses the old preschool that was destroyed in the war. She says It was smaller but it was closer to the children’s homes. But she is delighted to see the renovations have brightened the ambiance at their ‘new’ school.

School Playground is Safe Haven for Children Traumatized by War

Gaza preschool gets leaky straw shade replaced by ANERA after Gaza war 2014

Gaza preschool gets leaky straw shade replaced by ANERA after Gaza war 2014

The preschool teachers  also are delighted with the renovated playground that offers a safe place for Gaza’s children who have been seriously affected by the war. “When we returned to school, we checked on our children and when we heard their stories, we decided to dedicate the first two weeks to giving them support and letting them have fun in the playground,” said head teacher Abeer.

Preschooler Maise says her favorite place in the new playground is the slide. “We also decorated the walls with photographs of our graduates and our activities to add some color and memories of better times, “said Abeer.

Humanitarian reports estimate that more than 373,000 children need psychosocial support after the intensive bombings that lasted 51 days. At Al Tofulah Al Hadeetha, Abeer sees many children with post-traumatic stress, including bed wetting, nightmares and clinging to parents.

When the bombings erupted, Osama and Yazan fled their home with their parents, older brothers and grandmother, and ended up sheltering at a local society. They both love their preschool, which now accommodates 85 children. Abeer says the parents tell her the kids count the minutes until the bus arrives to pick them up in the morning.

“They start their day full of energy and joy. This all what a preschool is about.”

Gaza preschoolers in their newly renovated school after Gaza war 2014

Gaza preschoolers in their newly renovated school after Gaza war 2014

 

During the 51 days of bombings, Al Shifa hospital, like other health facilities in Gaza, faced enormous challenges when trying to provide emergency care for the injured. The hospital became an overcrowded refuge as well for patients too afraid of leaving the building to return to shelters with limited resources or their destroyed homes.

ANERA’s in-kind program regularly supplies Gaza health clinics and hospitals with vital medicines for emergency and chronic cases.

Dr. Nael Skaik, who heads Al Shifa’s central pharmacy, was well aware of the need for cleanliness and for medicines to treat post-op patients. “Maintaining a certain degree of cleanliness for wound healing and infection control is a must but it was extremely hard to keep high standards under emergency circumstances.” With entire families being hospitalized for injuries, patient care was further complicated as family members often provide the patient with supportive care and comfort when doctors are unavailable.

Dr. Skaik said chronic shortages of medicines also impeded the hospital’s ability to care for so many patients even after the war ended, “We were already lacking basic medicines and now our medicine supplies are depleted again after dealing with three wars in five years.”

A number of health clinics and hospitals were either damaged or closed during the war so many more cases were referred to Al Shifa for treatment, putting more pressure on the already-stressed facility. “We found ourselves dealing with 12,000+ patients and we used up the quantity of medicine we would normally consume over the course of three months in a matter of weeks,” Dr. Shaik continued. “The hospital had to stop all elective surgeries and prepare an inventory of out of stock items.” He says the list added up to 510 stock-out items, 30% of them priority medicines.”

ANERA in-kind staff delivers medicines for burn victims to Gaza hospital.

ANERA in-kind staff delivers medicines for burn victims to Gaza hospital.

Al Shifa reported a critical shortage of the life-saving, broad spectrum antibiotic Ceftriaxone, which is used to treat critical injuries. ANERA responded quickly to replenish the supply, procuring 23,000 vials from the West-Bank and getting the shipment into Gaza rapidly. The purchase was made possible with UK AID funding through International Health Partners.

“Under normal circumstances, patients need 10-20 vials twice a day for 20 to 30 days.  During the war the number of patients increased so much, the need for medicine increased dramatically” explains Dr. Skaik. “We opened our overburdened obstetrics department and our unfinished surgery building to accommodate the huge influx of patients.”

In the burn unit, 13-year-old Ahmed Fhaid quietly lay in his bed with a board game to keep him busy, a gift from his older sister. “The little boy sustained burns in his left leg while he and his father were trying to escape an explosion,” explains Dr. Skaik. “They were biking through the market to get feed for their pigeons when the bomb exploded.”

After the surgery, the boy was admitted the burn unit where he was given Ceftriaxone antibiotic vials to prevent contamination or inflammation.

The burn unit remains crowded with patients like Ahmed. His mother says all he wants to do is join his classmates who are returning to school. “He misses his friends.”