What started as a dream three years ago is now a vibrant reality for 55 respectable old men and women from Birzeit. Birzeit, like many Christian towns in the Palestinian territories, has lost many of its young couples to immigration. The tradition of children taking care of their aged parents is broken, and many seniors are left to live on their own.
In July 2004 the local parish conducted a survey of all senior citizens in the Birzeit area to measure the need to establish a care center for citizens beyond their retirement age. The results showed far higher that the anticipated level of need: some 128 senior citizens lived in the vicinity of the church neighborhood. Many were living on their own, and more importantly, the majority was not receiving the adequate medical, nutritional and social support they needed.
The National Presbyterian Church of Washington has been a sister parish to the Our Lady Queen of Peace in Birzeit since 1999. NPC is more than a friend in emergencies or times of need, but also supports school tuitions to create a safe and welcoming environment for children of little town of Birzeit. Through this partnership they have done many different activities, from organizing pilgrimages to the Holy Land to exchanging visits between members of the two congregations.
Valentines’ day- Feb. 14 2007
The Senior Citizen Center was inaugurated in July 2005 as fruit of this strong partnership. They believe that churches must stand together if the Living Stones, indigenous Christians of the Holy Land, are to remain a present fact and not a memory of the past.
NPC supported the project through HCEF, and with a property donated by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Pontifical Mission helped to upgrade and rehabilitate the center from a vacant basement into a warm facility. Caritas helped establish a hot meal program at the Center, the Birzeit Society contributes to the cost of operations. Today the Fr. Buzo Senior Citizen center is growing to be the pride of the local community. Children, teenagers, professionals, business men and local organizations, see a bright future for their town.
The Center operates three days a week, offering an array of social, recreational, nutritional, educational and even occupational services to 55 old men and women. The Center varies its programs to ensure that all social, spiritual, physical and moral aspects of a senior citizen life cared for. Members are not separated from the local community but instead situated comfortably in the heart of Birzeit and accessible to all.
Volunteer from UNRWA ( Najla Jasser) monitoring the blood pressure
The Center also helps to support eight Birzeiti families who were unemployed two years ago. The Birzeit Society’s Womens’ Committee, a strong social arm of the local parish, helps with the day-to-day running of the Center publicizes the Center’s services.
Volunteer from Russia ( Olga Batrawi) – helping the elderly with daily physical training ( on the right Mr. Atallah Samandar; on the left Mr. Fahed Salameh)
HCEF is eager to sustain the vigorous and life-loving seniors of Birzeit, and helps integrate the senior citizens in community activities and programs. The Center leads local and international festivals. Elders celebrate the International Day of the Elderly every October and participate in Christmas and Easter festivities alongside the children, teenagers and younger adults. They even dance and some times show up the children in the local folk dance Dabkeh.
In January and April 2007, the majority of the members, men and women alike, attended the Journey to Bethlehem and Journey to Jerusalem program. As part of HCEF’s Jesus Loves the Children Program, they distributed gifts to thousands of children and walked along the next generation of Palestinians into the alleys of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They, too, belong and Bethlehem and Jerusalem are equally theirs.
Despite all the checkpoints and the closures BSCC made it possible on the first week of May for fifty of our members accompanied by HCEF staff and volunteers to visit the dead sea known in the bible as the “Salt sea” or the “the sea of Sadom” which is considered one of the world’s first health resorts.
Elderly International Day-(center members and HCEF staff)- Elderly members wearing traditional Palestinian custom – they form professionals Dabkeh group who are participating in different occasion in Ramallah area.
The center is now running into its second year, and growing in terms of good will and service. As many of the members say, “We miss it the days we do not come- maybe we should make it seven days a week, just half a day on Sunday since we have to attend Mass.” The Center subsidizes the cost to all members by 90%, believing that such a necessary service cannot depend on the ability of the members to contribute.
The Fr. Buzo Senior Citizen Center would not be able to operate without the genuine support and interest of individuals in the US as well as in Birzeit, especially their parish partner, National Presbyterian Church.
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