It has been said that one fair measure of a society is how well it treats its senior citizens. After raising their children and retiring from the workforce, what becomes of a community’s elders? Far too often, their participation is limited and many find themselves separated from society at large. Sadly, this is as true in the East as it is in the West.
Until just this past July, increasing isolation was also the fate of senior citizens in Birzeit, Palestine. But that was before HCEF opened the Father Anton Buzo Senior Citizen Center (BSCC). We’re happy to report that things have changed drastically. The BSCC has given Birzeit’s senior citizens a place to call their own, where they can come together as a community in their own right. It’s also provided them an opportunity to contribute even more to Palestinian society. The BSCC has brought them a new home and a new life, but most importantly it has revived their precious smiles.
Currently, the center has more than 60 registered members, men and women aged 60 to 86. Three days a week, they come together to share a meal and each other’s company. The seniors gather around tables in the center’s main hall to play cards or dominos or to chat with one another. The atmosphere is not unlike a family, a community of equals who hold much in common. The center’s programming, which includes celebrations of religious and civic holidays and monthly excursions, does much to strengthen this bond.
Obviously, maintaining the health of the seniors is another of the BSCC’s missions. Nurses visit the center frequently, providing health education, blood pressure screening, and nutrition and weight monitoring. A weekly aerobic exercise routine has also been instituted to stave off arthritis and other impediments to healthy living. More recently, the center has purchased hearing aids for five of the seniors. A longer-term goal is seeing that the health insurance needs of all members are met, and that process has already begun.
Just as important as healthy bodies, the BSCC has made great strides in offering members healthy minds. With the wealth of pride they have in their culture and their home, the seniors are still eager to be productive citizens in the larger Palestinian Christian society. The BSCC is a place where they can continue to make the crafts and embroidery according to the styles that they mastered in their youth. Some of these are even on display at the center. The seniors have also taken time to preserve vital pieces of Palestinian culture through their recordings of traditional songs.
HCEF has made promoting and supporting the BSCC a top priority. While achieving that goal will certainly require support from Christians in the West, it starts with the local Arab Christian community in Birzeit. A recent Sunday brunch at the center is evidence that the people of Birzeit are well aware of this responsibility and eager to respond to the call. With the local Roman Catholic parish council and Yousef Nasser, the town’s mayor, in attendance, the community intended the reception to be a sign of their gratitude for HCEF’s work and the effort Sir Rateb Rabie, the foundation’s president, has put to make this project come true, and his will to keep it sustainable.
Amongst the attendants Fr. Aziz Halaweh – the pastor of the Latin Parish in Birziet, Fr. Issa Khoury – the pastor for the Greek Orthodox Parish in Birzeit, Birzeit Scouts Group, Birziet Ladies Charitable Society, and the Latin Parish Ladies Committee, Mr. Rabie reminded all present that the center’s future required ongoing support from the people of Birzeit. The hard work, opening the center, has already been done, he said. Now it is up to you, people from this community, to see that its mission is carried on.
Father Emil Salayta, a longtime friend of HCEF, followed Mr. Rabie’s comments by encouraging those in attendance to become ambassadors for the BSCC. Look beyond Birzeit for supporters, he said, confident that the world would respond to the needs of the seniors. Reach out in a special way for the people of Birzeit who live elsewhere, your friends and family in America. Remind that this is still their home, these men and women are still their elders.
In essence, the event was an opportunity for all present to experience first hand the kinds of services the BSCC provides, a chance for them to learn just how vital the center has become to its 60 members and their families. It was also the first step towards increased cooperation between HCEF and the local authorities on behalf of the town’s seniors.
The BSCC is HCEF’s way of giving back to Palestine’s senior citizens, a community of individuals who have given much throughout their lives. It is but a small thank you compared to the priceless gifts they have given successive generations. HCEF invites you all to come and visit the Father Anton Buzo Senior Citizens Center to see for yourself the love and happiness that our members share with each other and are able to also share with you.