It was June last year when I first visited the Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre (JPBC) situated on the Mount of Olives. The organisation provides rehabilitation services to children with disabilities across East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Founded in 1961, when East Jerusalem and the West Bank were under Jordanian rule, the organisation took its name from Princess Basma of Jordan who officially inaugurated the Centre during her visit in 1966.
Like most places, COVID-19 had hit the charity hard, and hearing that they needed support with donor fundraising, my friend suggested that I might like to get involved.
I was met at the front door by the Director of the Centre, Ibrahim Faltas who has led the charity since 2013. As he showed me around the Centre, I was impressed by the quality of the equipment and the scale of the operation. This was no dusty makeshift outfit but a highly professional medical centre of expertise.
Ibrahim explained that the Centre provided inpatient and outpatient support for children with a range of conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and other impairments and treats up to 1300 cases a year. There were a range of impressive looking treatment rooms which looked more like state of the art soft-plays than medical rooms so that children would feel at ease and enjoy their sessions. Both inpatients and outpatients can receive speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy and several other tailored services there.
The organisation also delivers a mobile clinic to treat patients in towns and villages across the West Bank. This enables children with less severe disabilities to be seen in their own communities and to identify those who would benefit from more intensive support at the national centre.
The onset of COVID-19 had resulted in the centre closing fully for six weeks and things were still quiet when I visited. A few children were having one-on-one treatments with their therapists in separate rooms, but many parents had been too afraid to send their children at that time.
The Centre can also accommodate up to 26 children with a parent who are housed for up to three weeks and given intensive rehabilitation therapy and support. This is part of the unique Mother Empowerment Programme where the parent is trained on how to support their child’s rehabilitation. Alongside more intensive support for the child, this has proved very effective and many children with serious conditions return as inpatients as needed throughout the year for this.
Finally, Ibrahim showed me the school which teaches over 450 children aged between 2-18, over a third of whom have disabilities. On the day I visited, there were more staff members than children in. This was because some children had already moved to online learning while children in the special classes continued to come into school in line with official guidance.
Fast forward six months and Israel is currently in its third national lockdown and things remain very precarious. My own involvement with the JPBC has not clocked up as many hours as I would have hoped due to long spells of lockdown and home schooling, but I hope to spend more time there as this year goes on.
Despite being part of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and one of the main centres of expertise for treating children with disabilities, the charity only receives enough funding to cover approximately two-thirds of its costs. The rest must be fundraised from international and local donors and this is a constant challenge.
This is where volunteers like JulieAnn Sewell come in, who has worked in the fundraising section since she arrived in Jerusalem a year ago. The JPBC sits under the wing of the Anglican Church and part of JulieAnn’s role is to establish collaborations and encourage donations from other faith-based organisations.
JulieAnn explains that: ‘it is a particular joy to find a place where difference and harmony work together and is totally enriching. The JPBC is a Christian institution in East Jerusalem, where Muslim and Christian staff work together to serve, in the main, Muslim children and families.
I find this model of mutual respect and belief in our common humanity so very evident at the centre. But more than this, there is the belief in something better. A hope borne out in the reality of seeing vulnerable children thriving, mothers encouraged and families empowered in a society where there continues to be deep discrimination’.
Many of the children that attend the centre for treatment speak of their hopes for a life not ruled by their disability. Seven year old Mira from Nablus has cerebral palsy. She says ‘the school was refusing me. I told them to disregard my legs’. After Mira started receiving treatment at the JPBC, she made what her mother calls ‘remarkable progress’. Mira is now at school and can dream of her future. She says: ‘When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer to help those in need’.
Ahlam is 11 years old and she sadly received a late diagnosis for cerebral palsy which has impaired her speech and mobility. Her mother says that ‘if the doctors took into consideration my observations as a mother maybe the situation would have been different, but nobody listened to me’. Ahlam is now receiving comprehensive support from the JPBC and says ‘my dream is to walk and to be an occupational therapist. She also says, ‘my dream is to have a role in society’.
Improving the quality of life for children with disabilities is not a quick-win game. Ibrahim explains ‘it is much easier for us to get funding for new equipment and physical assets but more difficult to get funding to cover the cost of delivering treatments to children from the West Bank and Gaza’.
There is a nervousness from donors that this treads on Palestinian Authority territory, but the reality is that the funding available from the PA will never be able to meet the demand for services. The losers are the children that are condemned to a life of limitations because they didn’t receive an early intervention or sufficient support during their childhoods to alleviate their conditions.
The challenges of the last year has caused the JPBC to rethink how it delivers its services. They have acted swiftly in moving to virtual therapies for children who cannot reach the Centre and for whom this continuity of care is crucial to their rehabilitation. They have also developed a model for providing enhanced care more locally but this requires new investment. Ibrahim says that in 2021 the main challenges will be ‘to continue to provide a quality service and reach more children in need while facing declining funding from donors in the wake of global and local economic crises because of the COVID-19 pandemic’.
JulieAnn sees the work of JPBC as a model for others. She says: ‘At a time of global trauma, this lived out hope offers us all perhaps a glimpse of what our world can be like if we all work together, regardless of our divisions. Here is a place which grows hope – at a time when our world so needs it! As one mother described so well, the Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre is like ‘a candle in the dark’.”
You can find out more about Basma on their website and donate to their COVID-19 emergency appeal. You can also like and share the Friends of the Jerusalem Princess Basma Facebook page, which celebrates the achievements and good news stories of the children, families and staff.