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Families in Gaza whose homes were destroyed receive kitchen kits that were purchased and distributed by Amera Society in February. Daryl Byler

Families in Gaza whose homes were destroyed receive kitchen kits that were purchased and distributed by Amera Society in February. Daryl Byler

MCC blankets, relief kits build friendships in Gaza

Gladys Terichow
May 4, 2009

AKRON, Pa. — A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) shipment of 3,600 blankets and 1,200 relief kits arrived in the Gaza Strip in early April and has been distributed to 1,200 households.

The blankets and relief kits were distributed by four MCC partner organizations, said Ryan Lehman, an MCC representative based in Jerusalem. Lehman is from Boswell, Pa. Each household received one relief kit and three blankets.

These supplies are difficult to obtain in Gaza and seen as tangible expressions of friendship, love and support, said Lehman, who visited Gaza shortly after the Jan. 18 ceasefire ended a 23-day military confrontation with Israel. The conflict claimed the lives of 13 Israelis and more than 1,300 Palestinians and caused more than 50,000 Palestinians to flee their homes.

Lehman said he met a Palestinian grandmother who eased her grandchild’s fear of strangers by saying: "These are the Mennonites; they will not bring rockets."

People in Gaza, he explained, are keenly aware of the assistance that MCC has provided over the years and feel a deep sense of gratitude for longstanding relationships with MCC and people who support MCC’s work.

MCC has worked alongside Palestinians for nearly 60 years and Israelis for nearly 40 years. MCC's partners in the Palestinian territories and Israel are committed to nonviolence and a future of peace, justice and reconciliation for both peoples.

A foundational emphasis of MCC’s work in Gaza is building relationships and working in partnership with groups and organizations to help them identify and meet the needs of their communities, said Lehman. This is accomplished through providing resources and training to build the capacity of staff to develop and manage their own projects.

Three of the four partner organizations that distributed MCC’s material resources in April were started with assistance from MCC. Al-Najd Developmental Forum, Amera Society and Culture of Free Thought Association are community-based organizations begun by women to provide programs and services for women and their families.

“It is not the size of our grants that makes such a big difference,” said Lehman. “It is the ongoing communication, solidarity and support that we provide that tells them we care about the welfare of those in Gaza. We also want our partners and people in Gaza to know that Mennonites in Canada and United States support their efforts to increase capacity so that local organizations can better meet the needs of their communities.”

MCC also works closely with other partner organizations in Gaza, including the YMCA, which helped with the distribution of blankets and relief kits in April.

MCC sent a shipment of 600 health kits, 105 boxes of canned turkey and 1,000 blankets to a hospital in Gaza through Canada Lutheran World Relief.

Because there is a desperate and ongoing need for humanitarian aid in Gaza, Lehman said it is important for MCC to support other efforts that help Gazans rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

MCC is part of a coalition of international aid agencies that signed an April 17 statement asking the European Union and the international community to urge the Israeli government to open border crossings into Gaza and allow the normal flow of commerce.

The homes of 20,000 families were damaged or destroyed during the military operations, but more than three months after the Jan. 18 ceasefire, many still live in tents and makeshift shelters because the Israeli government does not allow construction material, such as cement and reinforced steel rods, to enter Gaza, according to Lehman.

These restrictions also hinder the reconstruction of schools, universities, health clinics, hospitals and infrastructure that were damaged during the war.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.