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I asked Carol about Gaza, a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean where hundreds of thousands of refugees had rested after fleeing the violence of the various Arab-Israeli wars.

“I used to go down to Gaza once a week. I hated the place. It’s a horrible place. So much human misery; so much dirt; there are no drains in the camps. In the summer it’s not so bad; everything dries up. But in winter when the sand becomes muddy and greasy, you can imagine what it’s like.”

Before the troubles, she added, Gaza had fertile soil, beautiful orange groves and abundant vegetable gardens. But this changed “when all you have is thousands of refugees and ghastly living conditions.”

The Gazans, she said, “were cut off from so much. They were trained to hate foreigners, especially the Brits and the Americans.”

Although Carol left the Holy Land nearly 12 years ago, her memory is quite vivid. Her numerous and often humorous descriptions and sketches of people, politics and situations could not possibly fit the limited space here. But I will conclude with her description of Ephpheta School for the Hearing Impaired, which was founded by Pope Paul VI after his visit to the Holy Land in 1964.

“It was well known that the pope had a great feeling for the deaf. Now Archbishop Pio Laghi, then the Holy See’s apostolic delegate in Jerusalem, was responsible for all the big breakthroughs in the Holy Land. He established Ephpheta.

“An Italian order of nuns, known as the St. Dorothy Sisters, have worked in the Holy Land for years. They are well known for their work with the deaf and the mentally handicapped. They use modern methods; they are highly trained and efficient.”

The school was “beautifully furnished, it had very modern equipment for testingdeafness and there existed an atmosphere of happiness. All education was given orally. They were tutored daily in speech and expected to lip-read and speak in response.

I am devoted to the people from the United States, but they are easily moved to tears. The children could never understand their American visitors who stood and wept over them. They would turn to me and ask, ‘Why? What are they weeping about?’ It was difficult to explain that what for the children was happiness – they were communicating, they were beautifully clothed, they had beautiful beds, they had everything (and remember some of these children had to be taught how to use the lavatory) – they were amazed that people thought they were something to mourn over. They thought they were something to rejoice over. They were right.

“Ephpheta has now developed to the point where children are brought for testing at the age of a few months if their hearing is in question. Later, while they are still below school age, the sisters have a preschool, where the children begin to learn, begin to lip-read, begin all the skills that they will later have to learn.

“I have visited Ephpheta every time I have returned to the Holy Land. The children are still the same and the effect upon the children is still the same. The children are speaking and I can understand them.”

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Michael La Civita is the editor of Catholic Near East.

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Tags: Refugees CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine