A Christmas Gift from Maria

Maria’s smile was the best gift I received this Christmas.  Maria is seven years young.  She can’t wait to go the USA, so she can run and play with other kids like she used to.  Five months ago she was walking with her mom in their neighborhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria when a bullet entered her shoulder and lodged in her spine.

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Her family sought refuge in Lebanon.  They live in an abandoned building. No electricity. The own two mattresses, three blankets and a wheelchair aside from the clothes on their back.

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The family greeted us with smiles that warmed the freezing room.  Maria spoke as she shivered: “My mother tells me stories, I cannot go to school, they don’t have a place for me. I get bored, so my father takes me on the chair to watch other kids run. I know I will have a surgery and get better and run again. When am I going to America to get my bullet out?”

As we walked out of their home, Mohamad, her father says there’s another family who needs your help.  A young mother appears with her three children; Mohamad the eldest was at home when a shell hit their house, killing his grandfather and tearing through his hands.

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“They are in good shape” says Mohamad, The PCRF Lebanon Missions Manager. “On your next visit, we will go to the Ba’kaa where a tent is the only shelter those families have”.

Every day I am reminded of how rich my life is with friends, loved ones, amazing work, and health.  Today, was a special reminder. On a day when people share gifts, feast and celebrate, I received a heart warming smile from a seven year old who has nothing. I felt touched by an angel.

If you would like to help provide medical treatment to Maria, Mohamad and other children like them please visit http://www.pcrf.net

If you would like to support families like Maria and Mohamad’s family, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/live2give

Giving beyond reason

Today felt heavy. I woke up at dawn, and prayed for the life of Amir Bedier. A man I had only heard of yesterday, when his brother and my friend Ahmed sent out this message: “Urgent please make dua for my brother Amir, who was just shot in the chest inside the Rabaa protest in Cairo.”

Moments after prayer, another message came through: “My brother Amir Bedier has returned to Our Lord. To Allah we belong and to Allah is the return. Amir was shot and killed by Egyptian police forces in Rabaa square today. We are proud of him and his courage to stand up for his beliefs and the rights of others. He was fasting and unarmed. He left behind a wife, two children, five brothers and his two parents and countless relatives and friends who loved him.”

A stream of condolences followed.

“إنا لله و إنا إليه راجعون”.. “we are for Allah and for Allah we shall return”. The only consoling words. We are all destined for death.

My thoughts were on his children and widow, and the heart wrenching pain they are feeling and will feel for years to come. I felt the emptiness and loneliness they will experience when the anger and sadness lifts and they realize he is gone forever. His seat at dinner is empty, he’s not there to take them to Friday prayer or school Parent conferences.  Seeing fathers supporting their children, hugging them, even reprimanding them becomes all they see around.  Thoughts of “what would he have done” become questions that can never be answered.

The events of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine are tragic. They are creating generations of orphans who are left with an emptiness that can never be filled. Their childhoods are scarred.  Their psychology and emotional state is forever altered.  Their economic status will never be the same. For many, they are catapulted into poverty.

It is the way of the world, and there will be a tomorrow. A tomorrow with orphans places an added responsibility on the rest of society; on us.. me and you…

a responsibility  to give beyond reason,

to obsess about their rights and privileges,

to include their plans in our personal, family and community plans.

We must remember them when we are celebrating because they have non to celebrate with,

when we are traveling and they are unable to leave their camps or disadvantaged lives,

when put up our billboards forgetting the messages on it is only reminder of what’s beyond their reach,

when we embrace mother’s day and they are left to contemplate their missing loved ones.

I write this post as a declaration of what I am committed to, and a reminder to those who care to have a peaceful balanced world.  The emotional and economic deficit born in the lives of orphans is our collective responsibility.  Their security is the accountability of each and every one of us.

May Allah bless Amir Bedier and have mercy on his soul.  May Allah give us the courage to do what is unreasonable for his children.

#live2give

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Once upon a school – Betine

Iqra Learning Center - Palestine

Spending 4 hours on the King Hussein border can be beneficial after all! I met a Palestinian-American (Wissam) who was visiting Palestine to evaluate a unique social initiative a friend of his started. We talked briefly, and met later in Ramallah.  Amal came with Wissam and took me on a tour of  the “Iqra Learning Center” in her husband’s hometown Batin.

When Amal moved to the West Bank from Fredrick MD. she saw a lot of kids roaming the streets of the village.. kids who should have been at school.  She learned that due to over populated classrooms, learning disabilities and their “special needs” they weren’t able to stay in school. Having seen many special ed programs in the US, she converted her garage to a tutoring center.

Her approach had such a positive impact, kids told their friends, who brought others and she ended up with three garages full of students.  Amal and her husband reached out to the community, got teachers, supplies and ran the program for the past two years.  She supported 100 students. Most are children of framers who cannot afford to pay and offer olive oil instead.

Today, 175 more students are wait-listed.  Amal rented out a larger space and is determined to continue her tutoring program.  Amal needs school supplies, furniture, books and computers.

candy cart – UAE

GulfNews – Copyright

A few years ago a dear friend lost her beautiful 13 year young daughter to cancer, Allah bless her soul. Despite how much it pained me to see her go through it, I felt helpless, I couldn’t reach out to console her with words. I prayed that one day I would be able to support her.  Knowing more than any other what children with terminal illness feel, Dana Askari took initiative. She contributed generously to Children’s Cancer causes and setup the Candy Cart initiative to personally give comfort to children with cancer in the UAE.

Dana rolls a cart loaded with goodies around the children’s wards of Dubai and Tawaam Hospitals offering children a little something that brightens their day.  It is something she felt cheered up Dania, bless her soul, during their time in a hospital in NY.

Dana’s efforts have put smiles on children at both hospitals. Her aim is to have the carts, and a volunteer network who would service them in hospitals across the UAE.  Her challenge is reaching hospital administrators and getting their approval to introduce Candy Carts to their hospitals.

How you can help:

If you have a direct connection to hospital CEOs, hospital group management with decision making authority, or the Ministry of Health officials who can support this cause, please contact me with their information. Let us help Dana make Candy Cart a UAE wide program.
To learn more about how much this program can impact children, please visit the resources below:

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/14040540#14040540

http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/the-candy-cart-that-helps-to-keep-child-patients-sweet-in-dubai

http://gulfnews.com/life-style/people/a-sweet-story-for-sick-kids-in-dubai-1.1031749

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Changing times – Tala moves to the dorms

I read once that as working men and women, we risk defining ourselves by our jobs. When we lose a job, we lose sense of who we are.  I was very conscious of the fact, and held on to who I was despite positions I held over the years.  However, when it came to my “job” or role as a mother, the change took me by surprise.

Tala's move into her Freshman Dormroom

It did not occur to me that it would be so difficult when the change in role came about.  Here I was getting ready to send off my first born to University. I felt proud of her accomplishments, of what she has become as a balanced young adult, of how independent she has grown to be.  The day she moved into the dorms, it hit me, like a ton of bricks! We pulled up into the line of cars waiting to unload eager freshmen and all their belongings into their dorms; me, my brother Omar, Aboudi and Tala sat in the car waiting. I felt a lump in my throat, I couldn’t contribute to their light-hearted conversation. I was overcome with a heavy feeling, one that I couldn’t understand. It felt like years of holding back emotions. I felt overwhelmed, afraid, sad; a sense of loss that I couldn’t explain.  Here I should be happy for Tala entering a new chapter. Instead, all I could think of is, I’m alone..and I don’t know what I am to do or be next!

My life since I turned 23 has been defined by my two blessings, Tala & Aboudi.  I made career choices based on what was good for them at the time. My choice of where to live, who to befriend, our activities, travels, food, weekend pass times and so much more were selected by what the kids liked or what was good for them.  This was the case despite having to work extra hard to make these decisions and choices after Emad and I divorced, since he did what suited him, and one of us had to make certain sacrifices.

And so with Tala moving into her new life, and Aboudi getting ready to follow next year, I must move into mine. One that is defined by what I want to do. Do I know what I want to do? Do I know who I am aside from being a mom? If I chose to work in the UAE to be with the kids, does it make sense for me to remain there when they’re gone? Where would I want to live? Do I follow them everywhere they go? What if Aboudi chooses a University in a different city?

I am certain I’m not the only parent out there who is going through these feelings. The combination of being alone, without a partner, living in the UAE to bring the kids closer to their father, but having no real other reason to remain there, having lost the family hub in DC and spending my last 18 years arranging my life according to the children’s needs makes it seem a bit unique.

A dream come true..

At least two years have passed since I saw Aboudi play a basketball game at school.  Last night, I watched the opposing team approach the court, and thought.. my God..they’re huge! they’ll crush them! Seconds later.. the EIS team walks on the court.. and my jaw dropped.. they are actually the same size! When did they grow to be so big?  Its not that I haven’t seen my son.. but somehow, seeing among his teammates made me realize he’s a grown man.

Aboudi has loved basketball for as long as I remember.  before he could walk, he crawled to the trashcan and dunked his little basketball into it.  My late father, Allah Yerhamo, would carry him up to the lowered real hoop to help him throw his little ball into it.  Soon he graduated to a Fisherprize hoop that mother bought for him, and that we had to transport back and forth between her house and ours, or else he wouldn’t go home. We watched him play for hours.

Not long after that, and despite his relatively small size, he started using the big hoop.  Friends would comment on how good his aim was; someone even told me he is my ticket to fame!  While other kids developed language skills and reading interests, Aboudi developed his game and knowledge of its history and statistics.  At age 11, he could tell you the name, age, scoring record of every NBA player, past and present. His eyes glistered, his voice became confident and he could speak for hours.

If I wanted to talk to Aboudi I had to play a game of one-on-one basketball. Rain or shine, snowfall or extreme heat, we played HORSE, and I was always defeated.  But that is when he spoke of what he loved, what hurt him, where he wanted to go, and much more.  It was almost like the game brought his emotions to life.

If I wanted to gift Aboudi anything special, it was basketball related.  One year, a colleague introduced me to Jerome Williams, a NY Nicks player, he sent Aboudi an autographed photo and some basketball paraphernalia. Aboudi was over the moon with excitement.

The game began, and while I heard him speak of his “game” and watched him practice often, I was stunned by his performance.  As one teacher put it, he has springs in his legs.  His focus, speed, precision and cooperation with his teammates were impeccable. He scored the highest number of points and managed to socialize with the other team’s players during the game.  I kept having flashbacks of the first time I took him to basketball tryout in fourth-grade. The coach said he was the most amazing little player he had seen.  I would watch him then run down the court; yesterday.. I couldn’t keep up with him! He was so fast, I would lose site of him, and find him on the other end of the court scoring.

Now I am certain many players have better skills, and many mothers have a lot more to brag about.. and yet I feel special.  When Aboudi was 2, I was diagnosed with Cardiac Sarcoidosis and had a difficult few years in and out of hospitals, struggling to stay alive.  During those years, when circumstances got very bad,  I closed my eyes and dreamed of Aboudi as a young man.. I visualized him play like a professional, I heard the audience cheer him on, I felt how much that meant to him.  And that dream kept me alive.

Reflecting on children

No change, the hospital staff are very kind and supportive. Mom’s friends, my friends, other family friends visit daily. It is very difficult when Emad brings the children. The staples are still on the scar. I’m so used to carrying them and playing physically with them. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how much my inability to mother them must be affecting them.

Tala’s school begins

Tala’s first day of school. She looked lovely. I braided her hair in two French braids. She wore the ISA uniform for the first time and looked like a little doll.

I called Dr. Esposito, The Kaiser cardiologist assigned to my case. I requested to pull back my appointment that is scheduled for Sep 12; there were no availabilities. I told him I hadn’t felt well, and I had a second opinion from family member who is a cardiologist who advised me to take Prednisone.  His reply was ” absolutely not, Prednisone is bad for your health”.  I asked to have a thallium scan to see the heart condition, his reply was “we do these tests for patients with coronary heart disease”.