“Sheer bliss.”

That’s how Naser Qadous, ANERA’s agricultural projects manager, described Natheera Al-Asad’s joy upon witnessing the blue flames emerge from the portable gas burner for the first time. “Natheera was skeptical about the entire project up until that moment,” explains Naser. “The surprise on her face was indescribable.”

The West Bank biogas project is one of ANERA’s many agriculture projects that allow for self-sustainability and economic development in marginalized communities. The biogas digesters, designed and implemented by ANERA engineers, provide a renewable source of energy at no cost because all that’s required is animal waste. Rural families in Palestine often have livestock that can easily provide the fuel.

The unique project has been introduced into the northern West Bank community of Al Maleh and also into the homes of 15 impoverished families in Gaza.

In Al Maleh, ANERA celebrated the project’s success with a refreshing pot of tea in Natheera’s home. All the Bedouin mother of 11 had to do was turn on the gas burner, which is connected to an ANERA-designed digester unit that turns animal waste to methane gas.

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Natheera  heats up a pot of tea over the biogas-powered burner.

A Safer, Easier Way to Cook in the West Bank

From dawn to dusk, Natheera, now in her mid-fifties, works relentlessly with her husband churning milk, shepherding livestock, milking, maintaining their tents, cooking, cleaning and spoiling their grandchildren who visit them frequently from a nearby village. The drudgery of making a fire for cooking is something the couple doesn’t look forward to, although it is an everyday necessity.

“The soot is everywhere and the smoke is very thick and harmful,” Natheera explains. “It is also costly for us to buy the wood, so we sometimes forage for twigs and bigger pieces lying around.”

Open-fire fumes are quite harmful and Bedouins traditionally build tents over the fire as a shelter from wind and rain and out of the reach of children. The tents are often used as sleeping areas as well, which is unsafe and unhealthy.

Like other Bedouins, Netheera and her husband sometimes buy gas canisters to make life easier for them, but it is not something they can regularly afford. Now, all she has to do is feed the biogas digester animal waste, which is in plentiful supply from her livestock and free.

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Natheera and her husband can’t wait to use their biogas unit to cook for their grandchildren.

Although the digester cannot entirely replace the traditional open fire for a Bedouin, it can decrease its use and harmful effects. Now the couple can use the new biogas unit to quickly and efficiently prepare their early morning cup of Arabic coffee without worrying about soot or smoke dirtying the crisp clean air around them.

An extra bonus: Natheera says she is especially excited now about the ease of cooking her grandchildren’s favorite meals when they visit without exposing them to any harm.

View the slideshow to see more photos from the Al Maleh community & biogas project:

Inside Spafford Center’s multipurpose room in Bethany (Ezarriyeh in Arabic) some 50 women, men and children sit patiently waiting their turn after registering their names at the center’s welcome desk. The “open day” is part of a campaign led by Saint John’s Eye Hospital to provide free eye exams for free. A staff of four diligently work to serve the patients.

The Spafford Center, whose main branch is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, is a long-term ANERA partner, dating back to 1998 when ANERA provided the center with a $5,000 grant to improve the out-patient clinic. Currently, ANERA is supporting Spafford’s work to improve the health, education and well-being of vulnerable Palestinian children and women in and around East Jerusalem.

Free Check-ups for Palestinian Families

After the construction of the separation wall and imposition of travel restrictions, the medical center extended its operations to Ezarriyeh just behind the wall, to continue serving its patients. The open day in Ezarriyeh is part of the outreach program to marginalized and isolated communities, providing health care for Palestinian families.

health palestinian families Sabha cataracts

Sabha’s diabetes have caused her vision to deteriorate. She’s getting her eyes examined for the first time.

Today, Sabha Awwad is getting help from a social worker to fill out her forms as she waits to get her eyes checked. The 57-year-old housewife suffers from diabetes and says her eyesight is deteriorating but she has never had an eye exam until now.

She admits she is a bit nervous. “I worry about my vision because of my disease. That’s why I hurried to register for an exam as soon as I heard about the open day at the clinic.”

Tala Dawani, Spafford’s Deputy CEO for Fundraising and Program Development, stresses the importance of the center’s outreach service. She says a large number of people tend to suffer through their condition without seeking help, especially if they live in isolated or marginalized communities.

Children also benefit from the open day free service. Dr. Wafa Sabbah gives two-year-old Amir, a routine check-up. He and his younger sister are regular patients.

“Cities like Ezarriyeh and Abu Dis are isolated from the rest of the West Bank by the separation wall and suffer from inadequate medical services, especially when it comes to childcare,” the 38-year-old pediatrician explains. “You don’t see a pediatrician often enough here so clinics usually rely on general practitioners or pharmacists to examine children.”

On this day, Amir doesn’t want to be checked, but Dr. Sabbah knows how to cheer him up. As she pulls out a few colorful balloons from her drawer, Amir’s teary eyes sparkle and his frown turns into a beautiful smile.

health Palestinian families doctor and Amir

Two-year-old Amir is feeling grumpy about his check-up, but a balloon from the doctor will cheer him up!

Spafford Serves Needy Communities around Jerusalem

Spafford center has been serving impoverished and marginalized communities in and around the city of Jerusalem for over 100 years. It provides quality services that help develop children’s and youth’s cognitive, emotional and physical well-being. As part of ANERA’s health program, the center provides free treatment and vaccination to 3,000 children.

Using a holistic therapeutic approach, the center also works with women, especially caretakers, to provide them training in child development and women’s empowerment — like child rearing, communicating with adolescents and economic advancement. The center holds group counseling sessions, and the Ezarriyeh branch offers gynecology services.

View slideshow to see more photos:

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Amir is much happier when his checkup is done and he has balloons to take home.

On this open day, eye exams are the primary focus.

Dr. Sabbah, a pediatrician, explains that children isolated by the separation wall often receive inadequate care due to a lack of pediatricians.

Sabha is relieved to finally be seeing a doctor for her eye sight and diabetes.

Amir and his younger sister are regular patients at the Spafford Center's Bethany clinic.

A beautiful view from the roof of the Bethany clinic.

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Ever since the Gaza war ended in 2014, the health system has struggled to fulfill the growing needs of different types of medicine. “Gaza was plagued with poor infrastructure and a fragile health care system even prior to the war,” says pharmacist Safaa Hawer who works for Al-Quds hospital.

For many Gaza families, Al-Quds hospital is the only facility that offers affordable and quality health care. Safaa feels confident that without the medicine that ANERA has been delivering to the hospital, the work would have been even more difficult. “We’ve been operating in peace and war with rotating shifts of physicians around the clock. The availability of the medicine delivered by ANERA helps us tremendously,” says Safaa, who joined the hospital in 2001.

Al-Quds Hospital patient 40-year-old Ahmed Sabaah has type-2 diabetes. Last year, Ahmed felt some uncommon symptoms, including excess thirst, frequent urination and sudden weight loss. He went to the doctor for blood tests and was told he was diabetic and that his genetic history made him predisposed to the disease.

Ahmed goes to the hospital for medical attention and to get his medicines. He takes monthly blood tests to measure his blood sugar levels. Ahmed says the disease has become a lifestyle for him. “All of my meals and snacks require thought and consideration. Any human error may cause dire repercussions,” he says. “But the doctors have never failed me. They always give me the right prescription to help me deal with this disease,” he adds.

ahmed diabetes medicine

Ahmed, a type-2 diabetes patient, is thankful for the donated medicine.

Ahmed was prescribed Pioglitazone Hydrochloride (Actos), to lower his glucose levels and activate his pancreas to produce insulin to regulate his blood sugar. He beamed with relief when he learned the medicine was free. His works as a janitor and, like many other Gaza diabetes patients,  does not have any medical benefits. He says his salary is barely enough to live on.

Thanks to the recent arrival of an AmeriCares shipment of donated medicines, ANERA made a delivery to Al-Quds hospital, enabling them to provide Ahmed his vital medicine free of charge. As Ahmed prepares to leave after his check-up, pharmacist Safaa gently reminds him to make his next appoint and to call the doctor if he feels any side effects. Ahmed smiles with confidence and relief that he is getting proper treatment for his chronic disease and that his health is in good hands.

ANERA has partnered with Al-Quds hospital since 2003 to deliver much-needed medicine and medical supplies, serving one of the most vulnerable communities in Gaza. ANERA distributed a Pioglitazone Hydrochloride (Actos) donation through AmeriCares to 8 clinics and hospitals all across Gaza to help patients with type-2 diabetes.

Amid the despair that pervades Gaza these days, Gaza Music School coordinator Ibrahim Al Najaar sounds an optimistic note: “Music restores hope and joy for a nation not accustomed to happiness.” As the student orchestra starts rehearsals, Ibrahim adds, “The music school supports students who want to play music and make their voices heard in the world.”

Some 200 young musicians meet at the school in Gaza City most evenings from 5 to 8 pm to rehearse and take lessons from 14 teachers there. Ibrahim Al Najaar describes the school as a refuge for many students who are designing their future through their talent and need an outlet for their creativity. “No matter the size of the hands or fingers, music is about sensation, and they do a great job expressing their emotions,” he adds.

New Violins & Scholarships for Gaza Music Students

Gaza Music School Firas playing qanoun

Firas is one of the best musicians in his class. He plays qanoun and uses it to express peace and serenity.

Ibrahim says the school is even more important in the aftermath of the traumatic 2014 war in Gaza. Sixth-grader Firas El-Shirafy is studying the qanoun, an ancient Arab instrument similar to a zither. While playing his favorite pieces from the world-famous singers Om-Kolthoom and Fayrouz, Firas pauses to talk about his classmate Naim. Naim had borrowed the school’s violin just a few days before the Gaza war broke out last summer, to practice at home.

“The first day I saw him coming to school, he was sobbing. He couldn’t talk to us,” says Firas. Naim’s apartment was in one of Gaza’s tall buildings that was bombed in the war. “He lost all his belongings and his violin,” explains Firas. “When we got back after the war, we didn’t talk, we just played in our team orchestra and it felt good to be doing something positive rather than opening old wounds.”

A few months later, ANERA provided the Gaza Music School a $15,000 grant to purchase six new violins and provide tuition for 80 students to study the musical instrument of their choice. The violins replaced what was lost and will give more students an opportunity to play the string instrument.  In 2010, ANERA delivered two pianos to Gaza’s only music school.

Seventh grader Evet El-Turk, is delighted with the new violins and is determined to master her technique.  She says music is a way to show a different side of Gaza. “We do have destruction everywhere, that’s true, but it is important to play our cultural songs to reflect our Palestinian traditions,” she said.

Pointing to the new violin, Evet proudly states her dream is to travel worldwide and perform before an audience of thousands. “With a lot of practice, I know I could perform confidently on stage.”

gaza music school evet elturk playing violin

Evet El-Turk takes her music seriously, and is very grateful for the violins.

Young Firas prefers the qanoun. He says he chose the qanoun because it is sophisticated. Thanks to ANERA’s scholarships, he has been able to continue studying and playing traditional Arabic melodies.

Firas says the secret of his success is the support of his parents and grandparents. “My passion began when I saw the qanoun played once on TV and I thought this is exactly what I want to do,” he smiles. Firas is considered one of the best students in his music class. His teacher says his musical abilities are well beyond his years. “He definitely has a musical ear,” explains Ibrahim Al Najaar.

Firas has no doubts about what he wants to be when he finishes school, “I want to be a musician. I am sure about that.”

His teachers also see how Firas expresses his fear, anger and sorrow through music.  “You know I lived through three wars already,” explains young Firas. “So for me, music is a message for peace and serenity.”

What is the Gaza Music School?

The Gaza Music School was founded in 2008 as a project funded by A. M. Qattan Foundation. It started with five teachers and 25 students but quickly expanded. Today there are 14 teachers. It is the only music school in Gaza. In 2012, the school joined the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music to become the conservatory’s fifth branch (other branches are in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah). The school offers eight years of study with a basic certificate and intermediate certificate, which qualify students to pursue music at international universities.

View slideshow to see more photos:

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gaza music school girl playing cello
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Gaza music school Evet ElTurk portrait

Students at the Gaza Music School play an array of string instruments. New violins give more students the chance to practice.

A younger student practices on a new violin with the help of one of her teachers.

A more advanced cello student practices while her teacher looks on.

Some of the teaching takes place inside the classroom, where the students come together to learn more about their passion.

A young student with great ambition focuses on her music as she plays.

Students use the instruments and their talents to express emotions.

Learning an instrument takes a lot of determination. Students at the Gaza Music School have what it takes.

Evet El-Turk, an aspiring violinist, poses with one of the new violins ANERA delivered.

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Khairyah looking at camera

Help for Diabetes Patients in Lebanon

April 22nd, 2015 by ANERA

“When I was 40 years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes, and because I didn’t receive the proper treatment, doctors started amputating my toes one by one till I lost both of my legs,” says 75-year-old Khairiyah, who has been living at Dar Al Ajaza, an elderly home in Beirut, Lebanon for five years now.

Her son decided it was time for his mother to rest in a place where she could receive good medical attention. Despite her health issues, Khairiyah used to care for  her sick husband and three children, two of whom were also ill. But, Khairiyah lacked proper care herself. She started to lose her eyesight and, facing amputation, she could no longer move around without help.

ANERA delivered a one-year supply of life-saving diabetes medicine to Dar Al Ajaza.

Khairiyah misses her home and children but says she has found a new family at the elderly home among other diabetes patients in Lebanon. “My son only visits me once a month because he is so busy with his children, but here I found a new family and they are watching over me.”

Fortunately for Khairiyah and other patients living with diabetes, ANERA has supplied the Dar Al Ajaza with a large quantity of Pioglitazone, which treats chronic diabetes. The medicines were generously donated by AmeriCares, a long-time partner of ANERA’s In-Kind program.

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Razan, a pharmacist at Dar Al Ajaza, is relieved to get the medicine.

Director Azzam Houri  explains that Dar Al Ajaza welcomes some 600 geriatric patients, coordinating with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to cover 40% of the medical costs. The organization relies on donations of medical supplies to provide its patients with proper medical care.

“I cannot thank AmeriCares enough for their generous donation of medicines that we need every day for our patients to treat their chronic illnesses. The medicines are too expensive for us to purchase and hard to find in Lebanon,” Houri says.

Pharmacist Razan Doumiati says the free one-year supply of Pioglitazone means their resources can be used to provide Khairiyah and 15 other diabetes patients with better food and a proper diet for people with diabetes.

“We strive every day to improve the quality of life for our patients, thanks to our network of valued partners,” adds Lina Atat, ANERA pharmacist in Beirut.

You can donate to ANERA today to make a huge difference in the lives of impoverished families in Lebanon and Palestine.