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Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008

Gaza kids key victims of the 'man-made disaster'


Staff writer

As the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip worsens, it is "doing terrible damage to children who are growing up in an atmosphere of hopelessness, pure hopelessness," said Geraldine Shawa, director of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, a Palestinian nonprofit organization in Gaza City.

News photo
Geraldine Shawa KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTO

Invited by the Japanese group Campaign for the Children of Palestine, Shawa arrived Friday in Tokyo and spoke the same evening to the press about the dire situation in Gaza.

According to Shawa, 1.5 million people, including 650,000 under age 14, "are being held hostage to a small group of militants who are sending missiles to Israel."

Since Hamas, an Islamist militant organization and political party, seized control of the Gaza Strip last June, living conditions have deteriorated, mainly due to the Israeli economic sanctions, resulting in job losses, shortages of basic necessities and power cuts.

Also affected are the children at the school managed by Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, which was established by Shawa and her friends in 1992. The hearing-impaired can enroll for free, and the school currently serves about 300 children from preschool to junior high school age.

Shawa said that when she spoke to her colleagues back home a few days ago, they reported that electricity was available only for about two hours a day.

"It's very difficult to operate (the school), because with only two hours of electricity, you can imagine that we can't get a lot of work done," said Shawa, a Chicago native who has been living in the Gaza Strip since 1970.

Without electricity, the school can't provide heating and audiology tests for the children, she said.

She also said the children must take their exams on blackboards because their isn't enough paper.

Making matters worse, many children have gone without hearing aids for months because it is impossible to get batteries, Shawa said, adding many secondhand aids, donated from other countries, including Japan, are not allowed in.

"This is a disaster, but it's a man-made disaster," she told reporters.

Still, she stressed her determination to educate the children, vowing, "We will continue to teach those children even if we have to go and write in the sand."

Shawa is scheduled to speak Sunday in Hiro, Tokyo, at 2 p.m. at JICA Earth Plaza and in Osaka on Feb. 3. For information, call (03) 3953-1393 or visit www32.ocn.ne.jp/~ccp/


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