Huda’s Dream

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) is one of the world’s largest children’s charity and will be familiar to readers of The Muslim Observer for the humanitarian work it performs with children in the Middle East. A little over a year ago the PCRF entered into a new field – the field of pediatric oncology. As with many projects there are complexities to be solved and hard work to be done, but it usually begins with a dream.

The announcement of the new venture took place at the organization’s annual banquet/fundraiser with the keynote speaker, Dr. Mohammed Rahdi, as the man chosen to spearhead this move. Dr. Rahdi is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. He is also a bone marrow transplant specialist. Dr. Rahdi and four others he selected went as a team on an exploratory visit to Palestine.

The project was the hope and dream of the late Huda Al Masri Sosebee, the lead social worker for the PCRF and the wife of PCRF CEO, Steve Sosebee. Huda, a victim of Leukemia, was the heart of the organization, and it is in her name that the project was conceived and is now virtually at fruition. The choice of location for this pediatric oncology unit is Hussein Hospital in Beit Jala. The unit will be known as the Huda Al-Masri Pediatric Oncology Department. It will serve children of the West Bank and Gaza.

PCRF is working with the aforementioned Children’s Mercy Hospital to train local doctors and nurses.

Due to the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, many Palestinian children do not have direct access to pediatric oncology/hematology care with the subsequent burden these circumstances place on the patients and their families.

The project had a number of components. This included constructing a physical department; equipping this department with the high level of care specific to pediatric cancer; facilitating and supporting international partners to train local medical personnel to standards that would serve the needs of the Palestinian people; providing pain management and palliative care in terminal cases; establishing a social support network – when a child has cancer the entire family is involved, and creating a National Committee of Healthcare providers in the field of Pediatric Oncology in Palestine. As of this writing approximately 60% of the physical equipment needed is in place.

In March of last year PCRF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Ministry of Health (MOH) to build the only public department servicing pediatric oncology in the government sector of Palestine.

During the same month PCRF with the Ministry of Health hosted a conference to explore the field of pediatric cancer . Dr. Rahdi and his team from Children’s Mercy Hospital also attended and gave lectures. This was their second trip to Palestine.

The Hadassah Hospital in Israel has offered the PCRF two Pediatric Oncology internships and will assume a portion of the costs.

The PCRF is also involved in providing recreational activities for young cancer patients, realizing that such entertainment will mitigate suffering or at least provide a diversion.

In May pediatric cancer patients who were currently undergoing treatment were given a day at Dar Salah Village Amusement Park in Bethlehem.

During the summer months the PCRF planned many pleasant surprises for children suffering from cancer. In June and August the organization planned birthday party celebrations and presented the children with boxes of food and clothing through the Basma Cancer Society.

During a recent trip to the United States, Steve Sosebee addressed a dinner meeting of the Southern California chapter of the PCRF and spoke of the pediatric oncology project as very near its completion.

As of this writing, the completion date is expected to be March 2012. The unit will have 14 beds, 2 isolation beds, and a day care area.

Contributors to the PCRF may specify that their donation is to apply to the Pediatric Oncology unit. These donations may also be sent to the PCRF’s Ohio office. No amount is to small. However should the donor wish to be a sponsor the following requirements apply. There is a required amount of $50 per month; sponsorship is on a yearly basis and can be renewed at the end of the year, the money can be paid by credit card, online, or as a bank transfer, for the full year or on a monthly basis.

The PCRF is organizing medical sponsorships for poor children with cancer. In addition, the PCRF will work with all the hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza to see whether pediatric oncology patients there can benefit from a transfer to Hussein Hospital. In the case of radiation therapy, it is only available at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, and patients will have to go there for treatment.
Children from Deir El Balah Refugee Camp have already been sponsored on line. Monies will be used to provide transportation and travel related costs for the local PCRF social worker and the child. Sponsors will receive monthly updates regarding the child from the relevant social worker and also from the child’s family. In the event sponsorship is no longer required for a child, the donor will be contacted and an inquiry will be made as to whether he or she wishes to transfer sponsorship to another child.

The child to be treated must have (non compulsory) PA health insurance {about $200 per year for non government employees} if the child is over three years of age. Under three years of age, the child will be treated at no charge.

Doctors on site will make the final decision as to which child is admitted to Hussein Hospital.

The CEO of the PCRF, Steve Sosebee, has agreed to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer.

TMO: How did this dream {of a pediatric oncology unit} begin – what was the seed?

MR. SOSEBEE: I saw how much my beloved wife Huda suffered getting the best care available to her in the world.  If she was in Palestine she would have suffered much worse. I investigated how children were treated in Palestine and found most were not getting adequate care and wanted to build something to help them in honor and memory of my wife, who have so much of her heart for Palestine.

TMO: Would you describe this project as a cooperative effort?

MR. SOSEBEE: We are welcome in all hospitals where we wish to work. In private hospitals we are not interested in doing missions because they make the families pay. We treat our children for free.

TMO: You must have had a close look at the effects of the Israeli siege and the Israeli occupation. Can you cite any examples of the deleterious effects on children’s health?

MR. SOSEBEE: We have hundreds of sick and injured children in the Gaza Strip in need of specialized surgery not available locally. We have volunteer doctors willing to go and treat them for free but they cannot enter due to the siege by the Israeli occupation authorities. These children go untreated as a result.

TMO: You have come so far. Do you have plans for expansion in the future?

MR. SOSEBEE:  Yes, our goal is always to try to grow and do more to provide humanitarian aid and medical care for children, as well as to address weaknesses in the local health care system.

TMO: Lets look at the PA in the West Bank, HAMAS in Gaza, and the Israeli authorities. Can you tell us the degree to which each entity has been cooperative?

MR. SOSEBEE:  It is a complicated subject because the issue of political policies and decisions by powers far larger a small relief group like the Pcrf.  Each has played a different role in helping and hindering our ability to reach those in need. Most of work is with in the west bank because of the siege in Gaza as far as sending teams there. Most of the kids we send out for treatment are from Gaza. We manage to run most of our own projects ourselves and that minimalists our interaction with local authorities. We like to deal with the people directly, not politicians.

TMO: Is there anything else you may wish to add?

MR. SOSEBEE: No, just to ask people for help.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To review some of its activities: the PCRF sends teams of medical personnel to the Middle East to treat children on site and to teach local doctors new skills. If local treatment is not a viable option, the child is sent to a hospital in the West, in Saudi Arabia or Dubai.

PCRF has a team of social workers on site to identify children who would benefit from their program. If the child can be helped locally, then that is done. If not, the PCRF works to provide free medical care for the child abroad.

The medical care imposes no cost on the sick child’s family. PCRF pays for airline tickets for the patient and, if necessary, an accompanying adult. In the target country doctors and other medical personnel donate their services, and the hospital that treats the child also provides a free venue. The sick child and an accompanying adult, if any, are sent to live with a host family during the patient’s term of treatment. The PCRF also pays for the airline fare which brings medical teams to Palestine.

The PCRF has provided infant formulae, specially fitted mechanized wheel chairs, eye exams and eye glasses, and summer camps for disabled children. The foregoing is far from a complete list. To access their web site, please go to:

Readers of The Muslim Observer will be kept abreast of this newest venture. Huda Al-Masri Sosebees’s dream is about to come true.


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