11 October 2016
Fadia Matti shows her family album, containing memories of life in Qaraqosh before ISIS forced her family to flee. (photo: Don Duncan)
Some of the most inspiring heroes we have met over the years are those who have remained devoted to their faith, in spite of almost unimaginable obstacles.
Most recently, that includes the men, women and children who have been displaced by ISIS in Iraq.
We profiled a number of them two years ago, including the Matti family:
Mother of four and wife to Saaed, Fadia Matti reaches often for a roll of toilet paper that sits next to her. She uses the roll for tissues for her coughing or crying. Since arriving in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil, she has developed respiratory problems, and a broken heart.
“I don’t believe what has happened,” she says of her family’s displacement from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. She sits on one of the foam mattresses of the family’s new shelter, a small quadrant defined by plastic sheeting. “I cry once I remember [our home in] Qaraqosh: the churches, Communion, having parties and how we would sit with our neighbors and wait for Christmas and Easter. I am sitting here, but my mind is in Qaraqosh.”
Around Fadia sit her children: her daughter Inas, the eldest; 16-year-old son Nibras; 13-year-old daughter Aras; and Diana, 10, the youngest. Her husband Saaed comes into the enclosure, removes his boots and sits next to her.
Around them lie the accouterments familiar to refugees and displaced people the world over: piles of foam mattresses, plastic containers, basic gas stoves, plastic sheeting and imperishable foodstuffs.
The Mattis have ended up in perhaps the worst living conditions that Erbil has to offer for the arriving Christians. While others are housed in tents in the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church or in temporary structures in social centers or on floors above where the Mattis now live, the Mattis’ own living space is in the poorly-lighted basement. The open sewer for the entire building is nearby. A constant smell of refuse and excrement lingers.
“My children get sick. I take them to the doctor. They get well. And then they get sick again,” says Fadia of the endless cycle of ill health that comes with living in such substandard conditions.
“I was comforting my kids, telling them that tomorrow would be better,” she says, “but now I am crying because I think of what we left behind: the churches especially, but also our memories, the childhoods of my children and everything we had.”
But her concluding comments speak poignantly of the deep and unwavering devotion these suffering Christians still carry in their hearts:
&lduqo;I love Qaraqosh. It’s my spirit. It’s my soul,” says Fadia. “We hope we will go back and that Christianity will remain in Iraq. My hope is in God and in Our Lady. It is impossible that Christianity will disappear.”
You can learn what has happened to Christians in Iraq since then by reading Grace in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE and United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition, chronicling the pastoral visit of CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to Kurdistan.
The resilience of the Mattis and so many other heroic families continues to inspire the work we do around the world. If you’d like to learn how to help displaced families in Iraq, visit this page — and please, keep them in your prayers.
6 October 2016
Atsede Gebetsadik attended the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Addis Ababa — a school serving the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia — and has now returned there to teach. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
One of the institutions CNEWA has supported is the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. As we reported in 2013:
The school, run by the Daughters of Charity and supported by CNEWA, is located in the middle of Kachene, the poorest neighborhood of Addis Ababa. It is the only school in the city targeting the poorest of the poor and one of the very few that is financially accessible to them.
Many of the students are orphans, or have lost one parent. A high proportion of people in the neighborhood are blind. Most of the adults get by on a precarious income earned through begging or occasional labor such as weaving baskets, selling grilled corn on the street or cleaning car windows. The daily worries of the children attending the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School go beyond spelling tests and times tables.
“These children are exposed to many risks due to the poverty they live in,” says Assefa Teklewold Worka, the children’s physical education teacher. “They are exposed to tobacco, alcohol or sniffing petroleum from a very early age. They are also at risk from the various diseases that the slum they live in can bring — and, in some cases, from trafficking and coercion into sex work.”
Despite these dangers, many of the school’s students are trying to stay in the game — to get a better education and, they hope, a better life.
In fact, they are playing to win.
One of those who has won is a young woman named Atsede Gebretsadik — a graduate of the school who has returned there as a teacher. She is managing to give back some of what was given to her — and in an interview, she imparted this simple, beautiful message:
“Teaching is a really difficult profession because what you are doing is creating people’s minds,” she says. “It’s not just talk and chalk, it goes further — into the homes of these children. We realize that yes, we are poor, but we challenge this poverty with education.”
That kind of heroic spirit is continuing to make a difference in the lives of many of those CNEWA serves around the world — and Atsede Gebretsadik is a living reminder that it pays off.
To offer your support for young people like Atsede in Ethiopia — many of whom are battling not just poverty but also drought — visit this giving page.
4 October 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education
Constantine Dabbagh was a key collaborator with CNEWA for many years, spearheading efforts to help the poor in Gaza. (photo: Miriam Sushman)
How do you bring hope to those for whom life seems hopeless?
Constantine Dabbagh, the former executive director of the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) in Gaza, spent much of his life answering that question — helping to support clinics and other facilities backed by CNEWA in that troubled, war-torn corner of the world. “He was our greatest collaborator there for the longest time,” said CNEWA’s regional director Sami El-Yousef in a recent email.
We profiled the work of N.E.C.C. in our magazine in 2001, and Mr. Dabbagh explained his efforts to reach out to all in need, regardless of faith:
“Jesus did not help only Christians,” noted Constantine Dabbagh, executive secretary of the council’s Committee for Refugee Work. “This is the Holy Land where Jesus started his mission. It is natural for Christians to witness in this part of the world.”
Two examples of Christian outreach are the Darraj and Shajaia clinics, located in two of the most underprivileged neighborhoods in Gaza City. Both provide pre- and postnatal care as well as general healthcare to approximately 9,500 families. …
At the Darraj clinic, on Well Baby Day, dozens of mothers in traditional Muslim headscarves and long dresses entertain fidgety infants waiting for checkups. Several women have older children in tow. Pregnant women wait in another corridor. A third waiting area is reserved for patients suffering from everything from gastrointestinal distress and colds to diabetes and cancer.
Eager to teach Gaza residents the rudiments of preventative health care, the medical staff has hung posters, some hand-made, detailing the dangers of leaving small children unattended and the health risks of unrefrigerated food. They encourage breast-feeding, good hygiene, especially when handling food or changing a baby, and proper overall nutrition — not an easy task for those who live in poverty.
This heroic work continues in Gaza to this day — and we cannot forget people like Constantine Dabbagh who have helped to make it possible.
29 September 2016
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Children Education Health Care
Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. worked for CNEWA in Beirut during a dangerous time in the 1980’s.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of our CNEWA heroes have witnessed remarkable moments of suffering, courage and grace. One who worked closely with us for many years even described her tenure in the Middle East as a time of “amazing grace.”
Sister Maureen Grady, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, served in Beirut as the chief operating officer of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.
When she stepped down from that post in 1993, she wrote of her early days in Lebanon in the 1980’s:
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead — that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
Not long after that, she began working with CNEWA and Pontifical Mission full time. She described meeting the agency’s chair, Cardinal John O'Connor:
[CNEWA’s National Secretary] Msgr. John Nolan arrived in Lebanon with Cardinal John O’Connor, president of the Pontifical Mission’s sister agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The cardinal approached me and asked, “Could you handle this?” and I responded, “Yes.” Msgr. Nolan then formally asked me to accept the position of director.
Later at a gathering of Lebanon’s religious, male and female, the cardinal introduced me as his representative in Lebanon, saying, “remember, my last name is O’Connor, and hers, O’Grady!”
It was a perilous period. In 1989, her convent was shelled during heavy fighting in east Beirut. A report at the time noted that she spent the night in the convent basement after the windows were blown out. But she persisted:
The greatest resource of any organization is its people. I recruited a young, energetic and intelligent staff; a group of people who were interested in doing their part to bring peace to their country. And though they could profit from formation and guidance, their dynamism and energy strengthened our efforts to work with the poor. And unlike the majority of the populace, they were freer of the prejudices that have haunted their homeland.
For four years, the biggest decision each day was whether or not to call each person to the office. Every morning we communicated with one another via walkie talkie — the phone lines were almost always down. Usually we discussed the fighting in each individual’s neighborhood and whether it was relatively safe to leave the security of a stairwell or a bunker. I was responsible for the safety and lives of each staff member. Yet in those four years of fighting, we only missed two working days. In a nation that saw schools, businesses and basic social services disrupted 50 percent of the time, our staff’s desire to work was amazing and their accomplishments, astounding.
“Astounding” could well describe the heroic work of this tireless sister, whose tenacity and resourcefulness paid off — and her work reminds us still of the spirit that guides all who work among the poor and suffering of the world.
27 September 2016
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana serves as the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping hope alive for Christians in Iraq and Syria. (photo: European Parliament News)
More than two years ago, word reached us about the threat of ISIS to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Long the center of Iraq’s ancient Christian community, Mosul had seen a constant bleeding of its Christians since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once, Mosul sheltered more than 60,000 Christians, but only a few thousand remained by July 2014. But by the end of the month, the city’s remaining Christians had fled, as ISIS stormed the city and gave its Christian citizens the choice to pay an extortion tax, convert, flee or die. ISIS was less generous to Mosul’s Shiite and Yazidi minorities.
Through our regional director in Amman, we received up-to-date accounts from an archimandrite of the Church of the East, Abuna Emanuel Youkhana, who described the terror that followed, the fate of the city’s ancient churches and monasteries, and the unknown that awaited the Christians of all of northern Iraq. In one report, dated 23 July, Abuna Emanuel writes of the actions of ISIS:
“This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. ... The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
“The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. ... The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.”
Last week, Abuna Emanuel traveled from Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, to New York, where he addressed the United Nations about the plight of all minorities in Iraq and the Middle East. Before his historic visit to the august body, he visited with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar for Archimandrite Emanuel is not just a bystander recording the travails of his people, but the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping “the hope alive” for Assyro-Chaldean Christians, and now one of CNEWA’s primary partners in Iraqi Kurdistan. There, in Dohuk, next to the city’s parish of the Church of the East, CNEWA established a clinic with a committee of representatives of the area’s churches, serving some 500 patients a week.
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, meets with Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, right, in New York on 23 September. (photo: CNEWA)
Asked about the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation among the committee’s different churches and their representatives, Abuna Emanuel laughed when asked to comment about such ecumenism in action.
“We don’t have the luxury to discuss this, and its theological implications. We do this practically, building bridges of hope, so as to survive.”
In addition to assisting with the management of the dispensary, which includes a laboratory and two operating rooms, the archimandrite has been interviewing displaced families, ascertaining information about their prospects and hopes as forces gather to take back the Nineveh Plain and the city of Mosul.
“Certain conditions, certain guarantees, have to be met to prevent this from happening again,” the priest said of those families considering returning to their homes should ISIS be pushed out and defeated.
“How do we restore coexistence and mutual trust?” he asked, adding that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government had failed to bind the diverse nation together, ignoring the existence of Iraq’s considerable non-Islamic minorities even in children’s text books.
“The sense of loss is profound,” he said, noting that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. Families were uprooted, perhaps forever.
“We share in the liturgy and in the sacraments,” he said of what binds all Iraqi Christians together, “we share all, as seeds of hope.”
22 September 2016
A CNEWA poster from 1926 features Greek Catholic Bishop George Calavassy. (photo: CNEWA)
When Bishop John Gavin Nolan, former secretary general of CNEWA, documented the origins of the association, he began Chapter I with the following words:
On 10 April 1917, four days after the United States entered World War I, Father George Calavassy, a bearded, 36-year-old Greek Catholic priest from Constantinople, dropped an envelope in the mail. Its contents, three pages painstakingly handwritten in English on plain paper at the Jesuit college of St. Francis Xavier in New York City, were addressed to James Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore, the dean of the American hierarchy. After reviewing the origin and purposes of the tiny Greek Catholic Exarchate (diocese) that the Holy See had established in Constantinople in 1911, Father Calavassy reminded the cardinal of his promise, made in Baltimore two months earlier, to present to the American bishops at their next meeting the needs of the exarchate — viz., $500,000 for a seminary, two schools and a “large” church, presumably a cathedral.
For 25 years, Cardinal Gibbons had lent his name to American Protestants to raise funds for the Armenians in Turkey, but it seems that he did not give Father Calavassy’s letter so much as the favor of a reply. The letter is important, however; it explains clearly in Father Calavassy’s own words the Holy See’s attitude and strategy vis-a-vis the Orthodox before Vatican Council II made ecumenism a household word. Further, it was due to the contacts Father Calavassy made with Catholics in America during the war, and to the correspondence he maintained with them afterward, that the Catholic Near East Welfare Association was founded in Philadelphia in 1924.
Indeed, though the work of CNEWA’s founding would involve such colorful characters as the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A.; Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle; the Rev. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J.; and ultimately Pope Pius XI, George Calavassy’s efforts to support his flock served as the spark that set the work in motion.
Born to Catholic parents in 1881 at Ano-Siros, on the Cyclades island of Siros — “the island of the pope,” in the words of Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries — Calavassy joined the priesthood early in life, building a reputation as an apologist for Catholicism and strong advocate for ecumenism, long before the latter had come into its own as a modern movement.
Above all, he went to every imaginable length to secure the safety and continuity of his community. In his profile on Greece’s Eastern Catholic Church, Michael La Civita wrote:
If not for the humanitarian and pastoral works of one of its leaders, Bishop George Calavassy (1920-57), this church would barely merit a footnote in the annals of church history. …
In 1911, Pope Pius X erected an ordinariate, later an exarchate, for this nascent church and named Father Isaias Papadopoulos as its first bishop. Called to Rome during the waning days of World War I, he was succeeded in 1920 by Bishop George Calavassy, who witnessed firsthand the horrors of a country at war with outsiders and with its own Christian minorities.
By 1920, an estimated million refugees had swarmed Constantinople. Hundreds of thousands of them were Greeks. Fleeing the excesses of the Bolsheviks, some 100,000 penniless Russians engulfed the former Byzantine capital. Scores of Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans fled their homesteads during and after the war; many more died in the struggle to defend them.
Among the first to minister to the needs of the dispossessed was Bishop George. Overwhelmed by the refugee crisis — especially after his requests for funding in Europe and the United States went unanswered — the bishop appealed to Father Paul Wattson.
The resulting efforts would prove a lifeline to his church in its most difficult time — sustaining orphans, students, parishioners and seminarians alike, and supporting the small church’s monumental relief efforts. And the rest, as they say, is history.
To continue the work that began with Bishop George Calavassy’s appeal for help, click here.
20 September 2016
Tags: Refugees CNEWA Relief Greek Catholic Church
Imad Abou Jaoude poses for a “selfie” with another CNEWA hero, Sister Maria Hannah, O.P., during a visit to Iraq. (photo: CNEWA)
Imad Abou Jaoude, a young civil engineer, joined CNEWA in our Beirut office in January 2000 as a part-time project coordinator when CNEWA was assisting the displaced population of Lebanon, mainly Christians. They had been forced to flee from their villages during the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 2000. With his engineering background, Imad mainly worked on technical issues related to the implementation of infrastructure projects.
Year after year, and with time, the mandate and the priority of the office were changing enormously, especially after the eruption of the war in Syria and the catastrophe of Iraq in 2014. This young enthusiastic engineer, Imad, feeling the importance of CNEWA’s presence to this vulnerable population, decided to join us full time and dedicate all his efforts and knowledge to helping us.
In 2014, only three weeks after the brutal offensive against the Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, and despite all danger encountered, Imad was very excited to join me in my first trip to Iraq. I still remember how we flew over Mosul only a few thousand feet above ISIS militants, within range of their rockets. For security reasons, our plane had to circle Erbil’s airport for almost an hour before we were allowed to land.
Thanks to Imad’s efforts, CNEWA is playing a leading role in responding to the needs of more than 150,000 displaced persons. With his engineering expertise, he effectively helped establish dispensaries and schools; with his very human touch he conveyed to all who needed it a spirit of solidarity and hope — truly a hero to many.
15 September 2016
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Relief
The Rev. David Mickiewicz of Oneonta, New York, has been a generous CNEWA donor for close to 25 years. (photo: courtesy David Mickiewicz)
Many of CNEWA’s most ardent supporters are priests and religious — and a lot of them, we’ve discovered, have been donors for many years. We met one such donor earlier this year, when we made a parish visit to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oneonta, New York to speak about CNEWA’s work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The pastor, Rev. David Mickiewicz, mentioned that he had been a longtime donor, and that he had a deep love and affinity for the Eastern churches. I sent him an email recently and asked him to share some of his thoughts with our readers. He wrote back:
The Mohawk and Hudson Rivers were my backyard, north of Albany, where I was raised in Waterford, New York, and where my mother and brother still reside. What attracted me to CNEWA, I expect, has roots that go back to Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, places that I had to pass to arrive at Saint Michael, my Polish Roman Catholic parish. Onion-shaped domes and multiple crosses, Slavic choral music and the spirituality of the icon seduced me into the Eastern Christian experience — broadening and allowing me to more fully breathe in my Roman tradition.
Father Paul Pascavage introduced me to the Byzantine Rite and I started singing Old Slavonic with the choir for Divine Liturgy. Two Christmases and Easters! What a joy. This nascent initiation led to other Eastern Christian experiences throughout my life, which included serving for a few years in the Syriac tradition at Saint Anne Maronite Catholic Church in Troy, New York. Experiencing, participating in and teaching about Easter Christianity have become staples of my life, with the assistance of CNEWA. It must be close to 25 years that I have been receiving the CNEWA publication ONE and financially supporting the association. The magazine and its website reporting on Eastern Christians — so little known or acknowledged in the West — and the ecumenical and interfaith efforts to better the lives of all people really drew me to support them.
What is most challenging and humbling about my support of CNEWA is that, while Eastern Christians are paying a heavy price — as refugees, living in poverty, experiencing discrimination and violence, even to the giving of their lives for believing in Jesus — my following the faith over the last 60 years has cost me nothing. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic area and living in a country that, even as religion is pushed further and further from the public square, still bears a Christian veneer, I am insulated. CNEWA, through its publications and works, regularly reminds me of my responsibility to that part of the Body of Christ that is crucified. I have had to grapple with this question: what part of the experience of the Body of Christ do I embody for my suffering sisters and brothers?
Might you consider your own situation in relationship to our sisters and brothers? This needs to be more than just charity; charity in the long run must also change us.
Father David exemplifies so many of the committed men and women who are unsung heroes in our world — priests, sisters, religious whose generous and prayerful support makes so much possible.
To all of them: Thank you!
13 September 2016
Wadad Nagib rises at dawn, six days a week, to see off her three sons to their work as garbage collectors in an impoverished corner of Egypt near Cairo. (photo: Dana Smilie)
Some of the most heroic and inspiring figures we have met have been people who hold fast to their faith and their dignity, in spite of challenges most of us couldn’t imagine.
One of those is Wadad Nagib, a 46-year-old mother of six who lives in a corner of Egypt known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood that is home to the Zabbaleen, or “garbage people.”
As Sarah Topol reported for ONE:
To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.
Mrs. Nagib’s husband collected trash for a living. Now too old to work, he has passed his route on to his children. And it seems, one by one, the Nagib children are carrying on the tradition.
Six days a week, Mrs. Nagib rises before dawn to see off three of her sons to their work as garbage collectors. At 5, the young men will have climbed into the family truck to head down the slopes to the city — a drive that takes two hours. There, they go from apartment to apartment along their route collecting garbage. By early afternoon, they head home, the truck loaded with trash.
While the young men rest, Mrs. Nagib and her daughters begin picking through the garbage bags with bare hands. They sort the debris into piles: aluminum cans, food waste, glass, etc. Later, the family will sell the recyclables.
Mrs. Nagib’s 3-year-old daughter plays barefoot in the trash heaps. Flies swarm around the mother and daughters. The sickly sweet stench of rotting waste fills the neighborhood’s narrow, unpaved streets.
“It’s not easy, but it’s what we have become accustomed to. All we want is security and God’s blessing,” Mrs. Nagib says. The slender woman wears a bright blue headscarf and small, simple earrings. As she gestures with her hands, she reveals a tiny tattoo of a cross on her right wrist, a common marking among Copts. “Maybe in the future things will get better.”
Read more about the Nagib family and the Zabbaleen here.
Last spring, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar paid a pastoral visit to Egypt and came away deeply moved:
How can garbage collectors and sorters who live surrounded by mountains of garbage in Cairo’s ghettoes be considered productive? How can they sing “Alleluia” at Mass on Epiphany? It is possible because so many of them look to the cross on their wrist for their cherished identity. They are not outcasts. They are not “second class.” They are brothers and sisters to Christ, and he is their Lord.
For their humility, their faith, and their tireless quest for dignity, they are also, to us, heroes.
To support our brothers and sisters in Egypt, visit this link.
8 September 2016
Since 1971, the Sisters of Saint Dorothy have been spreading the love of Christ to hearing impaired children at the Pope Paul VI Ephpheta School in Bethlehem. (photo: Steve Sabella)
Some heroes we have known do work that we can only describe as miraculous.
Consider the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, who have been gently but persistently breaking through the sound of silence. For nearly half a century, they have run the Pope Paul VI Ephpheta School for the Hearing Impaired in Bethlehem — a facility that takes its name, Ephpheta, from the miracle Jesus performed on a man who could not hear.
Today, not far from where that famous event occurred, the miracles continue. And the Sisters of Saint Dorothy are helping to make them happen.
Ephpheta was founded at the request of Blessed Pope Paul VI after his visit to the Holy Land in 1964. Supported almost entirely by CNEWA, Ephpheta admits children on the basis of need, not their parents’ ability to pay.
We described it all in our magazine in 1996:
Ephpheta is run by the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, a largely Italian community dedicated to spreading the love of Christ through fostering human and Christian development. Although engaged in many types of educational and social work, the sisters have specialized in educating the deaf.
...The first step began before Ephpheta opened its doors in 1971. The Sisters of Saint Dorothy have more than 100 years of experience educating the deaf. They have developed their own methods for teaching the deaf how to speak. But before Italian sisters could teach Palestinian children how to speak their native Arabic, these sisters had to learn Arabic themselves.
This was no small hurdle: Arabic ranks among the most difficult of languages and it contains guttural sounds not found in Western languages. Europeans and Americans who learn Arabic as adults usually have great difficulty mastering these sounds. Imagine having to master them well enough to teach them to a deaf child! But that is one of the accomplishments of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy.
Other than their hearing disability, the children served by Ephpheta are healthy children. Most are deaf from birth.
Ephpheta begins working with children when they are 18 months old, or as soon as their hearing disability is diagnosed. They come with their parents to Ephpheta once or twice a week for a preadmission program of testing and counseling.
Ephpheta’s formal program begins at age three. There are three kindergarten classes for three-to five-year-olds, followed by six primary grade levels. Each class has a maximum size of 12 to 14 children, so that each child may receive individual attention. Teaching a deaf child to speak and lip-read requires a huge investment of individual attention and care.
...One classroom contained musical instruments, and I wondered whether the deaf could be taught music. “A deaf child can be taught everything,” Sister Francesca told me, “even music.” I listened as one of the older girls played a tune on a small organ, reading from sheet music. “Learning music is important because it teaches a sense of rhythm,” Sister Francesca went on, “and normal speech is rhythmic speech.” Even if this deaf girl could not hear the music she was playing, her mastery of the rhythm of its short notes and long notes would help her perfect the rhythm of short syllables and long syllables in speaking.
The aim of Ephpheta is to prepare a deaf child for integration into normal schools and normal society. Consequently, Ephpheta does not teach sign language. Sign language only allows a person to communicate with others who know sign language. Ephpheta teaches speaking and lipreading so that a deaf child will be able to communicate with everyone and lead as normal a life as possible. The ultimate goal is to help each child develop his or her maximum potential.
CNEWA is proud to support the work of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, and to salute these determined heroes who are making what seemed impossible possible, one child at a time.