This past Sunday, the director of “Shevet Achim” (www.shevet.org) invited me to travel with him to the main Gaza crossing to pick up a child with heart condition for surgery in Israel. On the drive from Jerusalem to the Erez Crossing, Alex told me more about Shevet Achim and how they work to locate and support families who will be medically served by “Save a Child’s Heart” (www.sach.org).
Today’s child, a 6 year old that I’ll call Amy, came accompanied by her grandmother. It must have been frightening to enter Israel given the culture of hatred Gaza expresses toward Israel. They sat quietly in the back seat. Even though they neither spoke English, I was sure I could rely on my years of teaching elementary school to draw out a smile. Fortunately, Alex speaks Arabic, Hebrew, and English. After some small talk I played my harmonica but, to my surprise, Amy showed no spark of interest. No songs, no smile. The grandmother pulled up Amy’s coat sleeve to reveal a withered right arm ending with finger nubs at the elbow. In the hospital waiting room, I was left alone with Amy and her grandmother. I drew some cartoon figures on paper. I tried finger puppets. With the assistance of Amy’s grandmother, I put her tiny stiff fingers of her good hand around my camera and encouraged her to press the button. No response. Taking pictures of fish and crazy faces did not wash away her glazed look. I thought that either Amy is severely depressed or retarded. Eventually, we were ushered to the pediatric wing where I saw Amy limp away on the skinniest legs I’d ever seen on a child her age. I can’t even imagine what her upbringing in Gaza has been like. Perhaps her congenital heart condition has left her so weak for so many years that she was not even able to respond to her environment. Only God can repair such a heart.
Back in the lobby, I met a couple mothers from Iraq who were finally heading home with their children after successful heart surgeries. An ABC news camera man was discretely filming to document their story. It was amazing to see such smiles and tears of joy upon their departure for the Jordan crossing where they will soon fly from Amman to Bagdad.
I hope Amy too will be brought back to health so she can have a smile like every child deserves. Meanwhile, Hamas lobs katyusha rockets toward hospitals where Jewish doctors try and save the lives of children.
There are many organizations based in Israel that reach out to poor and sick both in and outside of Israel no matter the ethnicity of the person being assisted. Shevet Achim does more for children than what they have time to blog about on their website. Perhaps this small report will encourage someone to visit and support their worthwhile ministry.