gaza blood bank giving blood

Gaza Blood Bank Equipped for Emergencies

September 18th, 2015 by ANERA

The Gaza Blood Bank Society (GBBS) plays a key role during good times and during crises like last year’s war. But war and years of border closures have strained the society’s ability to respond to Gaza’s health needs. “Extra pressure was put on the blood bank, particularly during emergencies. And we were already in desperate need of a better facilities to meet our ever-growing demands,” explains Dr. Ziyad Shaat, director of the blood bank.

Gaza’s main hospitals were in dire need for blood donations during last year’s war. They issued a call for urgent donations of all blood types. “It wasn’t safe to line up outside the central blood bank so we shipped supplies to branches in Rafah and Khan Younis and also to hospitals that needed blood for transfusions,” he said.

As one of the founders, Dr. Ziyad recalled the early days of GBBS. “It was founded in 1979 by good-hearted people who wanted to end the suffering of those who needed a blood donation but had to purchase it at a high price. And, the blood was taken from unknown or untested donors,” he added.

GBBS has received financial donations from a variety of funders. “Blessings of good deeds and good intentions have prevailed,” he said.

A Reliable Power Source Keeps the Gaza Blood Bank Going

Gaza blood bank generator

A new powerful generator ensures the blood bank remains operational during frequent Gaza power outages.

Dr. Ziyad says ANERA has been a life-saver, helping the blood bank with the society’s infrastructure by expanding its facilities into a new building that had not been operational for several months. “With all the financial burdens, we could only pay our employees a small stipend that we called a gift because it didn’t even qualify as a salary,” he added.

ANERA provides vital equipment to Gaza’s health facilities. At this year’s Annual Dinner, we’ll be raising funds for health programs. Join us!

Dr. Ziyad explained that selecting the right cold storage equipment, for example, is critical for the blood bank. So is keeping the refrigeration equipment functioning. “The power cuts make it is impossible to keep the blood in good conditions. It is so precious and we don’t want to lose our supply.”

ANERA provided GBBS with a new 66KVA generator, a reliable power source to sustain its operations. “Everyone felt so lucky,” he said. “It improves our productivity and it’s a huge relief for blood donors, patients and staff.”

gaza blood bank cooling unit

A nurse at the blood bank carries pints of blood in this new cooling container.

Nurse Naheda explained that blood is kept in good condition in the new refrigerated containers that ANERA has supplied to transport blood to Gaza’s blood banks and hospitals. “There is no time to waste when there’s an accident or surgery or other emergency. We operate 24 hours and we must have the blood ready for donations,” she added. ANERA also has supplied the Gaza Blood Bank with furniture, storage units, computers and printers.

Dr. Ziyad sighed with relief, “ANERA saved us from the brink of collapse. This assistance is unprecedented and is the catalyst behind our energy. When you save a unit of blood you save a life.”

Every year ANERA’s scholarship program helps dozens of Palestinians in Lebanon to pursue a higher education and achieve their dreams. Many receive a scholarship from a variety of donors who partner with ANERA in this program. Without financial assistance, the young Palestinian students could not afford to continue their education.

Marwa Dirawi was 15 when ANERA advertised its scholarship program. She didn’t hesitate to apply. “I was in seventh grade and I’d passed the official exams but I knew it was the end of my schooling,” says Marwa, “We are a family of six and my parents want to give a basic education for my other siblings too. So they couldn’t afford to pay my high school fees. That’s why I dropped out of school.”

When Marwa saw ANERA’s poster in a community center in Beirut’s southern suburb, she says it changed everything and renewed her dream of finishing school.

ANERA has partnered with Abdel El Hady Debs Technical School in Beirut for the scholarship program, which focuses on teaching Palestinian students the skills they need to find good paying jobs and overcome the legal and administrative hurdles of the Lebanese labor market. Classes range from interior design, electronics or hairdressing to accounting, architectural drawing and more. Graduates then can access the job market or better still pursue a college education.

When Marwa got the scholarship she went to the institute to enroll in mechanical engineering. “But the supervisor told me this specialty was only open to men, so I chose architectural drawing,” Marwa explains, “Even though architecture was not my first choice, I managed to be the best of my class for all three years.”

Palestinian scholarship student Marwa Dirawi with parents

Marwa’s parents couldn’t afford to send her to high school on their own. They are so proud of her dedication.

Hard Work Pays Off for Marwa in Final Exams

Marwa took her final exams in August with the hope of going on to college. The result? Marwa finished second in all subjects on the Lebanese National Levels.

Palestinian scholarship student Marwa Dirawi at graduation

Marwa graduated from high school at the top of her class this year and will be attending college on scholarship in October.

“We don’t have internet at home so I didn’t see the results but then my friends started calling me to tell me I came in second and I didn’t believe them,” she smiles. “I thought they read the wrong name until I went to an internet café next door and saw the results myself.”

Marwa says her heart skipped a beat when she saw the results. “I ran home to tell my parents.”

Marwa says her parents have always supported and encouraged her to do her best, “My father is a butcher and when the results were published, he distributed free meat to poor families in the neighborhood and my mom called everyone we know to tell them the news.”

Marwa was excited to start college. She wanted to study mechanical engineering at the American University of Beirut, but she only got a partial scholarship there and her family cannot afford to pay the rest of the fees. “So I started checking other universities and applying for more scholarships or financial aid,” Marwa sounded dejected but not defeated.  “I said to myself that I will not let this stop me from achieving my dreams because I know our Palestinian community needs more engineers and fewer people without jobs.”

And then, early in September Marwa’s mother called ANERA with the good news: Marwa has received a scholarship at American University of Science and Technology and will start her classes in mechatronic engineering in October.

For young girls in Beddawi refugee camp, a sports tournament is more than just watching boys playing matches.

ANERA has designed an innovative sports program to use athletics as a tool for gender inclusion, conflict resolution and community development. After completely rehabilitating Beddawi’s soccer field, ANERA continues to organize tournaments and practices for youth to play soccer and other sports with professional coaches. An emphasis on bridging gender gaps ensures young girls get an opportunity to play together, too—a rarity in many communities.

Recently, a photographer from Germany, Anthea Schaap, visited the camp to take some unique photos of the girls that play soccer in Beddawi.

Meet Loulou Abdul Razak, 17

Beddawi camp soccer Loulou portrait

Loulou is known as “Super Girl.” Loulou Abdul Razak, 17, is in 12th grade at Banasira School in Beddawi, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. She is passionate about soccer and delighted that ANERA built a soccer field in the camp.

“Now, with the new field, my friends and I have a safe place to play. My teammates call me ‘Super Girl’ because I’m a fast runner and I’m always urging the team on. I help them learn new tricks. I think this is how we improve and move forward.”

Meet Marwa Al Marzouk, 14

Beddawi camp soccer for girls Marawel portrait

Marwa was only eight years old when she started playing soccer with boys from her neighborhood in Beddawi. Marwa is now 14 and a seventh grader at Al Ramleh school in the camp. She says soccer is an “international language that transcends religion, community or nationality.”

Her dream is to join the national Palestinian soccer team.“I think joining the national Palestinian team for girls would let me introduce the Palestinian cause to millions of people around the world who don’t even know where Palestine is on a map.”

Meet Nisreen Abdul Kader, 16

Beddawi girls play soccer Nadine portrait

Nisreen studies at North Technical School in Al Zahriyeh, Tripoli, the largest city in northern Lebanon. The 11th grader explains how exciting it is to play soccer after many years of being denied the opportunity. “At school, we never had access to a soccer field,” she explains. “Soccer was only a boys’ game and they used to tease us all the time. Girls were always on the benches cheering and watching tournaments.”

Nisreen’s first experience playing coincided with the opening of the Beddawi field. “Coaches started coming to the camp to organize matches between girls’ teams and it was so much fun,” Nisreen said. Nisreen’s dream? To become a professional soccer player, of course.

See the Girls on the Field

See more photos of the girls and their friends in the slideshow!

Beddawi Soccer girls laughing
Beddawi soccer girl and coach
Beddawi refugee camp soccer high five
Beddawi refugee camp girls play soccer
Beddawi refugee camp: girl plays pingpong

Sports bring girls from the camp together to form friendships and develop leadership skills.

ANERA restored the soccer pitch in Beddawi camp earlier this year, building a safe, fenced-in field complete with lighting and spectator seating.

One of the more competitive girls goes up against her coach in a team practice.

Loulou, "Super Girl," gives her teammate a high-five for a job well done on the field!

For some of the girls, this is the first opportunity they've had to be involved in team sports.

Off the field, the girls can take part in other recreational activities.

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Jihad Abd el Halim was walking along the street in Nahr El Bared camp in Lebanon when he noticed a poster advertising a pastry training class at the camp’s Women’s Program Center. “That’s where everything’s happening,” he explains.

At 14, Jihad had failed his seventh grade exams four times and decided to quit school. He had always loved cooking, often baking treats for his family, but he hated school.

“It’s not a problem to quit school because we know as Palestinians there are few good jobs open to us in Lebanon,” Jihad says.

Most Palestinian refugee youth end up dropping out of school to find a job and earn some money to help support their families. But Jihad was intrigued by the idea of learning pastry skills.

The program is run by ANERA in partnership with several social centers in Lebanon’s refugee camps, thanks to funding from Reach Out To Asia (ROTA). The eight-month vocational training program includes classes in pastry, hairdressing, plumbing, and mobile phone and computer maintenance — skills that can lead to careers for Palestinian refugee youth. To date, 223 students have attended classes.

Careers for Palestinian Refugee Youth: Making a Cheesecake

Jihad never imagined that one poster could change his life, but now he is on his way to a profession in pastry.

Jihad Excels in Vocational Classes, Finds Passion for Pastry

So, at the age of 18, Jihad joined the pastry class. “We learned the theory of baking and then had hands-on training so we could gain a marketable skill and find work fairly fast,” he says. Jihad loved the class and then got the opportunity to take full-time training — a three-month internship at the Women’s Program Center. He prepared pastries for their events and ceremonies. “Watching everyone eating and enjoying my cheesecake and other pastries was so satisfying,” he smiles proudly. “It felt so good to finally taste success after my previous failures in school.”

Mamale Abdel Aal, Head Coordinator at the Women’s Program Center, has high praise for Jihad’s work. “He was an exceptional student and took the training seriously.” She says his passion for cooking and his drive to acquire new skills made him a great cook. He used to take his pastry to his friends to make them taste his treats and give him feedback. “He was really exceptional,” says Mamale.

Careers for Palestinian refugee youth: cheesecake

Cheesecake is Jihad’s specialty. He puts the finishing touches on this one.

Two years have gone by and the 20-year-old from Nahr el Bared is now a chef at a local pastry shop there. His specialty? Cheesecake. He also prepares other traditional recipes and is soon traveling to Rome, Italy to help out his Uncle.

“My uncle called me a few weeks ago and asked me to get my passport ready and to apply for a work visa so I could join him in Rome. That’s where he manages a pastry shop,” explains Jihad. “His shop is doing well because Italians love his Middle Eastern desserts.” Jihad can get some professional experience, support his family, and perhaps even open his own bakery in Lebanon someday.

“So look at me now. From a simple vocational class to a profession all because I saw that poster.” Jihad is excited about his future: “It is my love for pastry that is shaping my career and my future.”

Health in Lebanon - Nadine Teaches Health

Overcoming Barriers to Health in Lebanon Camps

September 3rd, 2015 by ANERA

“Growing up in a family that has deep ties with Palestine, I was constantly sensitized to the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon and their struggle in the camps. My family experienced financial and social difficulties and  shared some of the same struggles Palestinians suffer today,” explains 29-year-old Nadine Abdallah, ANERA public health specialist in Lebanon.

“In 2002, I was selected to attend the United World College, an international high school in the United States, and I stayed on to pursue a college degree in biology,” Nadine continues. “I wanted to go to medical school. That all changed after the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon. I realized that health is not restricted to the absence of illness, but is also a social issue.”

ANERA’s 2015 Annual Dinner supports health programs. Please join us on October 2!

Nadine realized that health problems in communities are related to several factors that cannot be ignored, including the political, social and economic environment. “So I shifted from medicine to public health because I believe the key to good health is treatment combined with preventive measures and advocacy.”  Nadine adds, “I remained in the US after getting my bachelor’s degree and worked in medical research for a while, but I felt I could be more effective if I returned home to Lebanon and pursued graduate studies in public health.”

Promoting Good Health In Lebanon through Education

Nadine joined ANERA in 2013 and immediately became involved in ANERA’s community based health education projects where she is in charge of organizing and designing health  interventions in coordination with local partners in Palestinian camps across Lebanon. Campaigns she’s organized to improve health in Lebanon include an anti-steroids campaign, hygiene promotion for refugee youth from Syria, a health-oriented co-project with UNICEF, and capacity building workshops for local health workers and community leaders.

Health in Lebanon - Nadine Speaks to Class

Nadine speaks to a group of health tutors who will be helping implement the health component of a project with UNICEF.

The challenge of Lebanon’s public health sector is its impact: whenever you conduct a public health campaign, it is nearly impossible to measure its success in terms of the number of lives saved,” Nadine says, “Public health professionals are known here as the silent warriors.”

This year, ANERA’s health education initiatives in Lebanon reached out to more than 3,800 adolescents, teachers and social center facilitators.  Youth-related positive health and hygiene topics were taught through training sessions, distribution of health pamphlets, awareness events and interactive theater performances.

“During our fieldwork, we face a lot of obstacles that seem impassable at the beginning,” Nadine admits, “But when we interact with the community and organize focus groups, I see the barriers start to fall. Our work is tiring, sometimes draining, but when your colleagues give you constant support, you feel the positive vibes and the warmth of a family.”

Health in Lebanon - Nadine and friend

Though overcoming barriers to health is challenging in Lebanon, Nadine always has her ANERA team to keep her going.