Jerusalem’s Child Health Haven: Spafford Children’s Center
Nestled within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Spafford Children’s Center has served Palestinians in East Jerusalem for over 100 years.
The center has experienced many changes throughout the years and managed to withstand political challenges and ongoing turbulence.
The Spafford Children’s Center staff has successfully adapted its services to continue addressing patients’ needs under rapidly changing political circumstances. Once housing a soup kitchen, a school for handicrafts and dressmaking, and even its own surgical unit, the hospital is now a center focusing on child health and education. The center provides psychological, social and educational support to children, as well as empowerment programs to mothers and female caretakers.
Anera partners with the Spafford Center
Anera is helping Spafford’s work to improve the health, education and well-being of vulnerable Palestinian children and women in and around East Jerusalem. The partnership includes programs for 700 children and young people through educational support services and extracurricular activities. It will also treat and vaccinate over 3,000 Palestinian children and provide counseling and parenting training to 400 mothers.
Anera’s partnership with the center dates back to 1998 when it provided the center with a $5,000 grant to improve the out-patient clinic. This included new equipment for vaccination and refrigeration, special cabinets, desks and waiting room furniture.
We had to survive overwhelming challenges and carry on for the sake of the children.
After the construction of the separation wall and imposition of travel restrictions, the medical center extended its operations to Bethany, or Ezarriyeh in Arabic, just behind the wall, in order to continue serving its patients.
The clinic today provides free pediatric care, infant welfare monitoring (including screenings for hearing, eyesight and development), in-kind aid and preventative vaccinations.
Spafford traditionally serves children from impoverished families who could not otherwise afford health care in Palestine. Many of the parents dropped out of school and got married at an early age, which often negatively impacts their parental guidance at home.
“Poverty and lack of education, proper schooling and counseling are a combination for a dire future,” says Mazen Dabbagh, Anera project manager. “Spafford aims to reverse that and offer a more hopeful outcome.”
Spafford’s holistic approach to early child health and development includes lectures, workshops, counseling, skills, and expressive arts therapy for mothers to help them stimulate their children’s learning abilities. The medical center reaches the families through school visits and word of mouth. The targeted groups are mainly residents of Jerusalem’s Old City and surrounding areas.
The center’s current director, Dr. Jantien Dajani, has spent over 40 years serving the children of Jerusalem and the West Bank as a pediatrician in Spafford’s out-patient clinic. She smiles when she boasts that she has treated three generations of patients.
“It hasn’t been easy getting to where we are today,” says Dr. Dajani. “We had to survive overwhelming challenges and carry on for the sake of the children.”
Dr. Dajani has been program director since 1992 when she experienced first-hand the violence of Intifada and security crackdowns that traumatized the children growing up during that period. “I have seen with my own eyes the psychological damage in children repeatedly manifesting itself in abdominal pain, bed-wetting, nightmares, speech and learning problems and violent tendencies.” Dr. Dajani says that encouraged her to develop and expand the center’s psychosocial program.
The building, under the ownership of the Spafford family, survived World War I and II, with all the famine and death both wars brought to the city. It also outlived the British Mandate and remained standing during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The center continues to provide medical, physiological and social aid, as well as arts and play therapy, summer camps and cultural activities to help Palestinian children and their mothers.
“Through this program, Anera is reaching out its hand to the children and mothers of East Jerusalem and impoverished surrounding areas to relieve their situation and offer them prospects for a more promising future,” concluded Dabbagh.