KinderUSA Annual Banquet

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The sufferings of the world are too numerous to catalogue. Certainly the suffering of children is particularly poignant, and nowhere is this more evident than in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli occupation has rendered the people oppressed and poor with only a token future. If children have no future, then the world has no future. While many individuals and organizations have commendably worked to aid the children of Palestine, none has done more than KinderUSA (Kids in Need of Development, Education and Relief).

This past Saturday evening KinderUSA held its annual fundraising banquet event, a successful and educational presentation, in Universal City, Ca. The event was titled: “Supporting our Children: The Seeds of the Future”.

With the advent of Ramadan and its call for inner struggle and sacrifice, an event noted by each speaker, this event had a particular relevance for Muslims and non Muslims alike.

The keynote speakers were internationally acclaimed Islamic scholar, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, and Los Angeles’ own Dr. Maher Hathout. Professor Ramadan holds an MA in Philosophy and French literature and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic studies. At present he is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University. He also teaches at the Faculty of Theology at Oxford.

Professor Ramadan was recently permitted into the United States to join the faculty of Notre Dame after having been denied entry for six years because of his political views and activities.

Dr. Maher Hathout was a founder of the Islamic Center of Southern California and of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). He is a sought after speaker, a prolific author, and a participant in interfaith events.

After introductory remarks by Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Jess Ghannam, Jinan Al Marayati, the young daughter of KinderUSA chair, Dr. Laila Al Marayati, read from the Koran and provided a translation.
Dr. Ghannam is a clinical professor and the Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Hathout said that speaking at this event was an honor. He read and translated a poem written in Arabic. Nations, he said, find a place in history because their children live to fulfil their maximum potential.The children of Palestine should have this opportunity for which they were created by God.

“Israel”, he continued, “resorts to piracy.” Israel confiscates food and medicines. Israel claims that the ships they intercepted may have carried weapons. Is there a better way to handle the situation so as not to deprive the intended recipients of food and medicine?

Israel says Gaza does not need these goods. Israel claims that it only objects to material that can have dual use – for example glass, concrete, fertilizer.

For any child to eat, more than bread is needed. “It is food with dignity that is needed.” Kids need a roof that does not leak and windows that are not shattered. What gives Israel the right to say “You need this, but you don’t need that?”

Dr. Hathout was interrupted continuously by cries of “How very true”; “absolutely right”, and “that is so true.”

The issue is not food, he continued. The issue is occupation. All decent people should work to take down the wall of occupation. Everything else is a band aid. Tonight, he claimed is a band aid. But band aids are necessary when you must take a child’s damaged hand and lead him into the future.

Dr. Hathout pointed out the situation in the Middle East and how six months ago it was so different and seemed without hope. We must not, he continued, take our mind of our ultimate target: occupation, occupation, occupation.

He ended by saying that Ramadan is a time to clear our vision. Certain things are incompatible with being a human being.

Professor Ramadan began his address by saying that it was always an honor to tell the truth. He began his speech by praising Dr. Maher Hathout and his late brother, Dr Hasan Hathout. Both were committed to justice for non Muslims as well as Muslims.

We must realize that whether one is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, there are voices that want to criminalize dissent, that want to render what we are doing illegal.

“We will always be on the side of the oppressed.” We are contributing to American society. We want freedom and democracy for us and for them. In this country we have much to do in the way of social justice and education.

He cautioned not to make the Palestinian cause a Muslim cause. Use the month of Ramadan as a solidarity month.

The audience had been interrupting Professor Ramadan with applause during his speech. He asked them to refrain and, if they found that he had made a particularly noteworthy point, that they concentrate on that point for ten seconds.

He then asked: “How do we come to a universalist attitude?” Our mission is to change the world for the better. He said he wanted to die having made himself a better person and the world a better place. He urged that we oppose any oppression.

He said to non Muslims that when you give your money, you purify it. Do not expect the recipient to thank you. Do it for the cause of justice.

We must follow events in the Middle East. We have inform ourselves of the situation and then inform others.

“There was no war in Gaza. It was an attack.” said Professor Ramadan. When you destroy schools as Israel did, you destroy the future.

We want to be an added value to the United States. We want to reconcile the United States to its own values. We are agents of reconciliation.

We must not accept the criminalization of support for the Palestinians. He said he was barred for six years from entry into this country because of his support. One of the groups he supported was on a black list, but it was not on the list at the time he gave the group money. He refused to apologize. None the less, the ban on his entry into this country stood until it was lifted by the current administration.

We practice a non violent resistance. We must persevere and be active. The more we are silent the more violent our enemies will become. “Who would have thought what would happen in Egypt? I am waiting for an Israeli spring.”

Muslims fast during Ramadan to purify themselves. They must act for humanity. We are a consumerist society. Ramadan makes this a better society through  fasting on the part of Muslims. The children of Palestine may be helping us. The poor whom we help may be our salvation; the oppressed whom we liberate may be our liberators.

The short and well received film, “Noor”,  written and directed by Mustafa Shakarchi, told the story of a ten year old girl who lived in a Lebanon Refugee Camp and wanted only to be a normal ten year old. Instead she was forced by her step mother to sell trinkets on the street. Her dream was to be able to read and write. The film was in Arabic with English sub titles. The child’s face and demeanor told the story, and the subtitles were in the end superfluous. When the film ended, not a few of the attendees had been moved to tears.

Before the formal part of the program, a reception was held in the lobby. A continuously running film that showed the plight of Palestinian children was on display. Dr. Laila Al Marayati, the Chairwoman of KinderUSA, and Dr. Basil Abdelkarim, a KinderUSA Board Member, presided over the collection of donations. Dr. Al Marayati showed and narrated a short film on the work of KinderUSA.
Many non Muslims were in attendance. Dr. Ghannam introduced some from the podium including Mormon Bishop and Mrs Steve Gilliland; Rabbi and Mrs Leonard Beerman, and two Roman Catholic nuns from the Los Angeles area. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and the Palestine American Women’s Association were also represented.

KinderUSA was founded in 2002 to help Palestinian children in need. The mission soon spread to other parts of the Middle East. To accomplish its work KinderUSA relies on partners throughout the world. KinderUSA has been recognized as one of the foremost children charities. It also seeks to provide services to help women who are the heads of households so that they might become independent. It is a 501(c)3 charity. The foregoing is only a very small part of KinderUSA in its entirety.

For more information on the far reaching work of KinderUSA, please access their web site at: www.kinderusa.org.

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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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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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