CAFOD report from Bethlehem rehab centre

 Yussef Salen is 11 years old. He received treatment at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, (BASR) for three months. He was being treated for the injuries sustained when his home in the nearby village of Khader was shelled. Yussef is making good progress - the injuries to his thigh have left him with a slight limp - but he soon hopes to return home to his four brothers and two sisters. "Our home was hit when the Israelis were shelling the village," he says. "We were trying to escape. We were woken up by the noise of the shelling and we were trying to get out of our house when the shell hit it." Yussef is one of up to 20 patients, known in the project as the "intifada injured" - victims of the recent violence in the West Bank. The hospital is about to increase the number of beds available for victims up to 40. Since October 2000, more than a hundred people have received medical care and nearly 400 others have been helped with counselling and other "crisis intervention" techniques. BASR was founded as a "Cheshire Home" in 1960 and is now an independent charity providing specialist rehabilitation services for children and adults suffering from head injuries, fractures, paraplegia and a range of other special needs. Staff at BASR include physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists, as well as psychological support and counselling services. Perched on a hill above Beit Jala, the project includes modern, airy wards for children and adults, a well-equipped gym and hydrotherapy pool. Building work is under way on a new operating theatre and wards for general surgery, paediatrics, orthopaedic and ophthalmology. "We aim to make the environment as little like a hospital as possible," says director Edmund Shehadeh. The project also aims to re-integrate people with disabilities into Palestinian society. Several of the BASR staff are themselves disabled, and down in the village of Beit Jala, a series of workshops are let out to local disabled people, creating vital employment opportunities. Mahmood Kasrawi has spent six months at BASR, recovering from injuries sustained when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head. "One of my friends had been killed by the Israelis," he explained. "We were all walking at his funeral and all the young people got angry. We began to throw stones at the soldiers. I was just so angry - I was outraged - that my friend had died and there was nothing else I could do. "I just got closer and closer to them. I was about 15 metres away, throwing stones, when they started shooting, and I got shot in the head. "None of the doctors thought I would live. None of them expected me to survive, they thought it was a fatal injury. "When they brought me to BASR I was unconscious. But slowly I started to improve. It really affected my ability to walk. I couldn't even recognise my own parents. It was a very painful experience for me. But after the rehabilitation and treatment here I can walk and speak and do other things that nobody ever thought I would do again. "Until now, I still have problems with my concentration and with my attention-span. I am very happy that I have been able to improve." Mahmood used to do carpentry work with his father, a builder. Now he will go to the project's vocational training centre for assessment. "I hope I will have something in the future," he says. "But without BASR, I don't know what I would have done." As well as the project's main centre in Beit Jala, BASR has seven community-based day-care centre, in the villages and refugee camps surrounding Bethlehem. Together, these serve around 1,000 children with different disabilities. Rima Canawati, who manages the community centres, says that the centres aim to prepare children with special needs for inclusion into mainstream education. The project works closely with the education ministry of the Palestinian authority. "We are hoping that all schools in the Bethlehem area will establish inclusive education projects," says Rima. "It's as much about changing attitudes as anything." George Kassiss, 11, has cerebral palsy and attends a BASR-funded day centre in Obidieh. His mother, Raida, explains that doctors put them in touch with BASR ten years ago. "George needed physiotherapy for two years, and since then BASR have helped us with equipment, like his wheelchair. Now he goes to the day centre from 8am to 1pm each day, and he really enjoys the time he spends there. George used to cry every time his older sister went off to school because he wanted to be like her, now he has a place to go to as well. The help we have had has really been a lifeline." "My son has good potential and we really want him to benefit." The impact of the intifada and subsequent blockade and attacks by Israelis security forces has also been felt in the all BASRA's day care centres. "At the beginning it was very bad because none of the cars could move, the roads were blocked, and you couldn't get from village to village," says one of the teachers at the centre in Dehesheh, in between lessons. "After about one month, it got a bit easier, and people could get here, but there are still about 10 children that are not able to get in each day. Even so, lessons are still interrupted fairly regularly." The centre lies in the middle of a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The children, most of whom are deaf or hearing-impaired, come from the villages around Bethlehem. Other centres cater for children and adults with learning disabilities. CAFOD fund some of the teachers' salaries. "These centres are crucial to our work," says director Edmund Shehadeh. "The focus is not just on the centre, but on building real partnerships with local communities." The centre in Beit Sahour, which teaches craft skills to adults with learning disabilities, is also home to a local Arab women's union, and to other community groups. "It is important for us that disabled people are not just isolated and kept on their own, but that we make every effort to integrate them into society," says Dr Shehadeh. Claudette Rishmawi is treasurer of the Arab Women's Union in Beit Sahour. Among other things, the union runs a hostel for women students at nearby Bethlehem University. "When the Israelis closed the area last autumn people could not get here, and there were no students. We have been using the hostel to help families whose houses have been destroyed by the shelling. They sleep in the hostel at night and during the day time they go back and try to repair their homes. "We have also been distributing food parcels. Many people have been unable to get to work because of the closures, and without wages their families have no food. So far we have been able to help about 200 families, and we have been able to give money to about another 200 families." After the Oslo peace accords, she said, "we hoped for peace. Now we really have no hope." Claudette says that more than 50 families, most of them Christians, have left Beit Sahour in the last year. Edmund Shehadeh believes that without a fundamental change of heart by the Israeli state, there will in years to come be no Christians in the Holy Land. But one ray of hope is the sort of cooperation and partnership fostered between Christians and Muslims at BASR. "We had one boy who was brought into the hospital, he was very badly brain damaged. And his father - a Muslim - came to see me. He was very suspicious about why we were caring for his son. He really didn't trust us because he knew we were Christians. But after some weeks he saw the improvements in his son and he came to me and embraced me. He thanked us for saving his son's life."

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