KINDERUSA Fundraiser

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under the boot of Israeli oppression, groups which provide direct aid to this beleaguered land become all the more worthy of support and endorsement. They shine a laser like beam on the suffering there and then provide outstanding aid. One such group is KINDERUSA (Kids in need of development, education and relief) which focuses primarily on the smallest victims of war and occupation — the children.

KINDERUSA held a banquet/fundraiser this past Saturday night in Garden Grove, Ca. Titled: “Operation Survival”, the event filled the dining hall to capacity.

Two screens in the dining hall showed film clips from footage shot in Gaza. This presentation included horrific scenes of destruction caused by Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” as well as — at the other end of the spectrum — scenes of children enjoying the basic staples of childhood with the relief that KINDERUSA provided to them. In scenes that were particularly poignant, children in Gaza enjoyed summer camp activities, a staple in Western nation but not in this occupied territory until a KINDERUSA program was implemented.

Dr. Jess Ghannam, a member of KINDERUSA’s Board of Directors, was the Master of Ceremonies. Dinner followed evening prayers.

Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, Chairwoman of KINDERUSA, was introduced by Dr. Ghannam. She told her audience that 81% of monies raised for KINDERUSA go directly to projects. Only 19% is used for various administrative expenses. In Gaza KINDERUSA partners with local organizations to optimize their efforts.

KINDERUSA aims not only to encourage local agriculture, for example, but to give families choices over their purchases. This concept she juxta positioned with the donation of food baskets which eliminates choice.

KINDERUSA, Dr. Al-Marayati continued, works in the West Bank, Lebanon, and now Pakistan as well as Gaza. Their work has been expanded to include children with diabetes and children who are educationally disadvantaged. Dr. Al Marayati, an obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke about one particular dark aspect of the many Israeli checkpoints, an aspect perhaps not familiar to the public. The Israelis make no allowances for pregnant women in labor, women who are on their way to a hospital to give birth. These checkpoint delays can and often do result in birth taking place outside of a hospital, an unhealthy and possibly fatal complication for mother and child. In addition, cancer sufferers must pass through these checkpoints to and from their chemotherapy visits. This is often discouraging, lessening the number of people who seek treatments because they do not want to endure the accompanying stress.

KINDERUSA was in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

John Ging, the Director of Operations of UNRWA in Gaza, was the keynote speaker. Mr. Ging arrived at LAX from abroad a few hours before his presentation. The recent volcano eruptions in Iceland and their attendant flight delays raised fears that he would not be able to make the trip. Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, in introducing him, commented on our dependence on God in such circumstances.

Dr. Ging spoke of the three aspects of Israeli control of Gaza. He said it is “illegal, inhuman, and insane.”

Operation Cast Lead, he said, only exacerbated an already horrific situation. Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 after electoral victories by HAMAS. They declared Gaza a hostile entity.
Gazan water has to be treated in the home because of its intrinsic biological impurity.The sewage system does not work, and an unpleasant odor pervades the water even after treatment. The inhuman treatment of Palestinians is rooted in disrespect by the Israelis of international law. He traced the origin of this oppression to 1948 and the displacement of one million Palestinians. He called for the right of return, the right to compensation and the right to resettlement for Palestinians. The Palestinians must work with the problems and decide on the solutions. Since 1967 Israel has been an occupying power and has practiced, among other matters, collective punishment. The world has an obligation to protect the people who suffer under collective punishment.

What is insane, he asked? It is insane to subject people to the brutality that Gazans must endure and not comprehend that you are feeding radical and extreme elements. He encouraged his audience to travel to Palestine and see the truth of what he has said first hand.

He described the Palestinians he had worked with as extremely protective of their children and, despite their predicament, resilient, hopeful and positive.
Mr. Ging urged his audience to give generously.

“Mr. Ging is on scene. He certainly knows what he is talking about”, said one young woman after hearing the presentation.

Dabke followed the event. Palestinian embroidery, contributed by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund ( PCRF) , was available for purchase.

For more information on KINDERUSA and/or to make a donation, please access them at: www.kinderusa.org.

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Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Convention

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

With the twin scourges of Islamophobia and racism prevalent in the United States and with the media acting as an echo chamber, a great burden is placed on individuals and groups who seek to speak the truth about Islam and the nature of the crises that effect us domestically and internationally.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), created in 1988, is one such organization. MPAC was formed to work for the civil rights of Muslim Americans and to facilitate their entry into American pluralism. MPAC works at the national as well as the grassroots level and has won the trust and respect of the Muslim and non Muslim community. MPAC has become an information source for those seeking to understand Islam and seeking also to put current events in their proper perspective.

MPAC held its ninth annual convention in Long Beach, Ca. this past Saturday. The event brought a capacity audience to attend workshops and listen to speakers, expert in their fields, and who provided insight and education into topics taken from today’s headlines. The title of the convention was: “With Change come Challenges.”

After thought provoking and informative workshops, the event ended with a banquet featuring Congressman Andre Carson (D,IN), awards, and entertainment.

Among the presenters (but not limited to) were Dr. Maher Hathout, a retired physician celebrated in the Muslim and non Muslim community for his dedication to peace and human rights and for his interfaith work. Dr. Hathout is the MPAC Senior Advisor, an author, and a sought after speaker.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor-in Chief of The Muslim Observer, a weekly English language Muslim newspaper. He was recently elected vice president of the Muslim Council of America, a new organization which serves Muslims in the arena of policy and political affairs. Dr. Abdullah is active in Islamic affairs in Nevada which activity also includes being secretary of the Interfaith Council of Nevada.

Dr. Laila Al Marayati is a physician and the Chairperson of KinderUSA, an organization dedicated to the well being of children, focusing in particular on the children of Palestine. Dr. Al Marayati is also the spokesperson for the Muslim Women’s League, a Los Angeles group which seeks to strengthen the role of Muslim women.

Haris Tarin of MPAC is that group’s Community Development Director. Mr Tarin has traveled extensively and has spoken at various symposia on the topic of Islam and the Muslim community.

“Fort Hood: A Defining Moment” was the topic of an afternoon panel. Most of the audience spoke among themselves before the event began and indicated thoughtful interest in how the matter would be handled.

“I am so glad this is being discussed” said one young man to his companion.

“I know there is more than what the media say” said his companion.

When asked by panel moderator, Salaam Al Marayati, MPAC’s Executive Director, whether Muslims should respond to this event, Dr. Maher Hathout declared that Muslims should not be apologetic because of the deranged acts of one man who happened to be Muslim. He reminded his audience that Major Nidal Hasan shouted  “Allahu Akbar” before he began his killing spree.  He said that if he used those two words now, every non Muslim would run out of the room.Yet Muslims use the same two words forty two times a day during their prayers. It is wrong to tar Muslims with a broad brush as the media have been wont to do. Non Muslims, most of whom do not understand the phrase, and its meaning, “God is Greater”, automatically fear it. Muslims are an essential part of the solution to the problem of Muslim extremists. They are essential to the education of non Muslims about Islam and the only ones truly qualified to ascertain when there is extremism and to propose effective solutions.

Dr. Connie Rice, an attorney and activist and a second panel member, said that this incident indicates more than ever the essential role that MPAC and other moderate Muslim groups must play in partnering with law enforcement. This places a terrible burden on MPAC, she said,  but one which they will willingly and efficiently carry out. She seconded the presentation of Dr. Hathout in presenting the necessity for groups such as MPAC to educate the community about Islam and to partner with law enforcement.

After the panel MPAC received an award from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Maher Hathout accepted the award.

During a particularly timely panel on “”Rebuilding US-Muslim World Relations”, a State Department official, Jonathan Morgenstein of the Department of Defense, commented that in Iraq and Afghanistan American soldiers were interacting with the local population. Dr. Laila Al Marayati commented that it would be so much better if these men and women were doing so in the capacity of peace corps volunteers and not as occupiers.

A bazaar was held in the main room and featured booths representing different Islamic groups. These booths include (the list is incomplete): CAIR; Islamic Relief; the Muslim Women’s League; ACCESS; American Medical Overseas Relief (AMOR); the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) Youth Programs, and Al-Madinah School. AMOR is dedicated to helping the medically needy in the Middle East with emphasis on children in Afghanistan. It may be accessed at: <www.AMORelief.org>.  The Al-Madinah school in Los Angeles is currently engaged in building projects that will be in the heart of urban Los Angeles.

Those wishing to learn more about MPAC and/or to make a contribution may access it at: www.mpac.org.

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KinderUSA Event for Gaza

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

The deteriorating situation in Gaza is of primary concern to humanitarians throughout the world. Unfortunately the Israeli dominated media have done little to present to the public the true picture of present life in Gaza, often and correctly labeled “the world’s largest outdoor prison.”

A number of charitable organizations have been on the ground in Gaza doing humanitarian work, though such work constitutes only a fraction of what is needed. None of the much vaunted aid pledged to Gaza has been received. KinderUSA (Kids in Need of Development, Education, and Relief) is one such organization.

KinderUSA held a successful Ramadan Iftar and fund raiser at Omar Ibn Al Khattab Mosque in Los Angeles this past weekend.

Titled: “Working Together, Rebuilding Lives”, the event filled the mosque’s Abu Dawood Hall as attendees listened to KinderUSA Chair, Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, and keynote speaker Dr. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley describe the dire situation in Gaza. The scope of the presentations focused on  Gaza’s continuing deterioration begun by Israel’s deliberate isolation of Gaza following the successful election of Hamas and exacerbated by Operation Cast Lead. The latter was a month long siege which began in late December of last year.

Dr. Al-Marayati, speaking in front of a video screen, gave some background on KinderUSA and its accomplishments since its founding in 2002. She emphasized the low overhead – 20% – of most projects. With respect to Ramadan projects, 100% of monies collected is used for charitable work. Contributions to KinderUSA qualify as Zakat.

KinderUSA is unique in that instead of goods and services, vouchers are given. These vouchers give greater choice to the recipients, and they can tailor the purchases to their particular needs. Since purchases are made from local merchants, this system also strengthens local communities.

KinderUSA also supports projects for women who are heads of households. Women who are pregnant are provided with special meals, and baked goods are delivered to impoverished families. More than 80% of Gazans are dependent on outside aid.

During Operation Cast Lead, Israel attacked mosques, residential areas, and schools. The infrastructure was destroyed, and Gaza residents were left to live in tents.

Dr. Al-Marayati introduced Dr. Hatem Bazian. Dr. Bazian is the founder of the Berkeley Center for the Study and Documentation of Islamophobia and a Senior lecturer for Near Eastern and Asian American Studies.

Dr. Bazian expressed his admiration for KinderUSA and told of his support for the organization since its founding. He spoke of the Palestinian Diaspora and mentioned in particular the number of Palestinians in South America. He remarked ironically that “Palestinians have been forced to conduct most of their politicking outside of Palestine.”

Dr. Bazian referenced former President and peace activist Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter has said that there is no question that Israel is responsible for the bloodshed in Gaza.

The audience gasped as Dr. Bazian told of the destruction of Gaza’s electrical plant six months before Operation Cast Lead, which destruction has made Gaza totally dependent of Israel for electricity.

“I didn’t know that.” said one young woman to her table mate. “You don’t read that in the newspaper or see it on TV” replied the other woman.

There has been a lack of courage to take Israel to task, Dr. Bazian continued. The Palestinians do not have control in Gaza, the Israelis do. The speaker referenced Israel’s dismay over Hamas’  electoral victory – their justification for continuing control. He brought laughter from his audience when he postulated an analogous situation vis a vis other nations who may have disapproved of former President George Bush’s victory at the polls. But Israel, of course, plays by its own rules.

Israel, the speaker asserted, wants to starve Gaza into submission. Israel has violated numerous codes of International law. Yet they are not called to answer for these violations. He urged people to speak up. Silence will only help Israel retain the status quo.

Successful fundraising took place. The attendees enjoyed an excellent Middle Eastern meal and were actively engaged in discussion at the end of the event.

KinderUSA is a 501 (c) (3) organization. To learn more of KinderUSA’s work, please access them at: www.kinderusa.org

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KinderUSA Event

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
The tragedy of Gaza is known throughout the world. Humanitarian groups such as KinderUSA focus on the smallest and most helpless victims – the children. Given the disproportionate number of young children in Gaza, their work takes on heroic proportions. 

KinderUSA, an advocacy group for children, held its annual banquet/fundraiser this past Saturday evening at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove, Ca. The event was titled: “Planting Seeds Today for Ramadan Tomorrow”. KinderUSA, which stands for Kids in Need of Development, Education, and Relief, was founded in 2002 by a group of dedicated physicians and humanitarian workers. In promoting the well being of children, KinderUSA is dedicated to the principle that children have a right to survival and that right has as a corollary a right to health,education and shelter.

The event featured as speakers Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, the Chairperson of KinderUSA and Dr. Mads Gilbert of the Norwegian Aid Committee University Hospital Norway.

Both physicians told of their experiences in Gaza, experiences which limned the cruelty of the Israeli Occupation. Dr. Al-Marayati also outlined and explained the work that KinderUSA has done in the region.

After an introduction by Dr. Basil Abelkarim and his reading with translation from the holy Koran, Dr. Al-Marayati took to the podium.

KinderUSA now has permanent non profit status. The group seeks transparency in all its operations. In describing some of their work in Gaza, Dr. Al-Marayati said that KinderUSA gives out food coupons which coupons are then used by the recipients to purchase food. The food is grown and prepared locally, and it is KinderUSA which provides the seeds for agricultural products. KinderUSA also supports a bakery in Gaza which provides nutritious goods throughout the oPt.

The audience was visibly moved when Dr. Al-Marayati described the courage shown by KinderUSA workers in going into the streets of Gaza during the Israeli assault. They put their lives at risk to insure that no hungry family was left unfed.

Dr. Al-Marayati also addressed the total and wanton destruction that the Israeli assault imposed on Gaza. She showed pictures of devastated buildings that could not conceivably be considered military targets and therefore should not have been targets of primary intent. One such building was a mosque and another was the American International School.

Dr. Mads Gilbert said that he could not call Israeli recent action in Gaza a war. Wars have rules. This was a vicious assault. “The Palestinian people may well be the strongest and most innovative people on earth” he said. Israel launched an assault, an action that violated basic human rights.

Dr. Gilbert referenced the recent issue of the prestigious medical journal, Lancet, that showed a scientific correlation between the Israeli Occupation and the tragic health conditions in Gaza. There can be no improvement until the Occupation ends.

Gaza, he continued, is a prison camp. Given the average age of Gazans – which is in the teens – it is truly a prison camp for children.

The pictures that were shown in the front of the room told a story of suffering in themselves. The doctors presentations brought the suffering alive.

“It is hard to believe how terrible things are” said one young woman “But it is true.”

For readers who wish to know more of the work of KinderUSA or who wish to contribute to their excellent work, please access their web site at: www.kinderusa.org.

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