By Olivia Brown
Even though the tourism and hospitality industries are what keep the economy going in Palestine, it’s social workers that uphold the well-being of Palestinians. In a society with an unstable government, poor economy and the stress of ongoing Israeli aggressions day in and day out, the pride of a social worker is found in supporting and nurturing its community back to health. This pride runs especially deep for Christian Palestinians in the social work field who believe as followers of Jesus, above all they are called to serve.
According to the International Federation of Social Workers, social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.
The unique responsibility of being a social worker in an occupied territory where families are being displaced, re-learning to live their lives in refugee camps, struggling in an unstable economy, and more, is that the need for such service is far greater than it might be in a more stable country. The issues that Palestinians are facing on a daily are not just political issues they are humanitarian issues and the service of a social worker is something that could probably be beneficial in just about any given home.
George Abdo is a social worker that works for a Humanitarian Organization for Relief and Development that prefers not to be named. He values his work deeply because there was a time when he was just working in a maintenance role repairing office equipment.
It wasn’t until the age of 26 that Abdo was able to pursue a college education for the first time in hopes to make a better life for himself. Fortunately, after this opportunity he was able to do just that. Abdo’s education and fulfillment in the work that he now does, however, does not exclude him from the unique struggles of living on an occupied territory.
Abdo’s wife Allison has been out of a job for the last three years due to the challenging limitations of the need for permission from the Israeli government to work in Israel. Abdo’s wife has held an Israeli ID, though she is, in fact, a Palestinian woman for several years. She was granted this ID because her mother, as a child, was afforded an Israeli ID while studying in a boarding school in Jerusalem. Because Allison’s mother had an Israeli ID, Allison opted to take one too.
However, it is still challenging for Allison to find work in Israel because she is a Palestinian. In the meantime, she is provided with no benefits from the Israeli government, including health insurance, simply because her husband is from the West Bank.
Because of this the Abdo family, despite George’s relatively stable career, has been struggling financially for the past three years. Yet, even in the face of these challenges, Abdo still serves in his job joyfully.
“My faith in God is the only way that makes me face the challenges of life,” says Abdo.
Abdo’s organization happens to be a Christian organization that is located in several countries across the globe. Faith aside, Abdo’s work gives him a great sense of purpose. “The unstable political situation in this land encourages me to help people. Usually, hard political situations are reflected in the economic situation,” says Abdo. “As long as we have an unstable political situation there will be financial problems for most of the people here and a big need for organizations like the one that I work for.”
According to Lina Rahil, a social worker in Bethlehem’s Caritas Children’s hospital, social work is a humanitarian job. Lina was led to social work by a desire to help people. “I used to do lots of volunteer work during high school. I was happy just to help people for nothing in return,” says Rahil.
Rahil has been working at Caritas Children’s Hospital in Bethlehem for the past 22 years. She began as a social worker but is now a director of a total of four other social workers in her department. Her role, along with the other team members that she oversees, is essentially to help serve the medical needs of families, provide emotional support, as well as help to reintegrate patients back into their lives outside of the hospital.
The patients that Rahil and her staff serve at Caritas are very diverse, coming from refugee camps and villages from all different backgrounds and it is the job of Rahil’s team of social workers to help these patients to recognize their potential, despite their circumstances.
With the political and economic state in Palestine many people are living day to day, Rahil says, “People today they have bread and tomorrow they don’t. Today they have school fees to pay for their children and tomorrow they don’t.”
In the midst of COVID, the economy in Palestine has been even more heavily hit. The tourism industry that makes up for almost 70% of the income in the land and this industry was nearly brought to a complete halt because of the pandemic. This increased the needs and the numbers of the families that Rahil and the Caritas staff serves.
Although Rahil may be a bit more stable than patients having a full-time job, the income of a social worker at Caritas is not that significant. Rahil says that it is not enough to provide for her children alone but thankfully coupled with the income of her husband they are able to make ends meet.
Despite her salary, Rahil still finds satisfaction in her work. “I always try to encourage the social workers–because I believe in this–that when we work, we don’t work for the salary. We don’t wait for our directors to tell us ‘thank you’. When we work and we see the appreciation in the eyes of the clients this is a reward for us. This is what matters,” says Rahil.
One of Rahil’s social workers at Caritas, Hiba Yousef, says that her work can take a toll on her. “To be honest, in this period of time since around six months, I feel fed up to see sick children,” says Yousef. “I tried all these years to have my extra energy to continue but after the Corona, I feel like I am starting to step back little by little.”
Living in the middle of the occupation, she says also adds to her stress at work and at home. “You know, everything is related to each other. If I am not comfortable at work, I’m not comfortable in my environment, I will not be in comfortable in my house,” says Yousef. She has three daughters at home and says that she often dreams of a better life for them by, not only finding new work, but leaving Palestine.
As she prays through her next steps, however, she is encouraged by reflecting on the words of Christian friends from the United States that visit often and remind her of the beauty of her land that she should have pride in. Her Christian friends living outside of the Holy Land encourage her that her influence as a Christian in Palestine is needed no matter what her profession. “I learned from our friends that the church will be better not only the day that we have more priests and religious. The church is better when we know that we are the church and live it through our daily life,” says Yousef.