It is almost rare that we encounter feel good stories coming out of the Middle East, but one organization has been challenging that reality for over two decades. The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) has been responsible for making paramount progress in the lives of children in the Middle East. For 23 years, the PCRF has been committed to meeting the medical and surgical needs of children in the Middle East. By coordinating medical missions, treatment abroad, and humanitarian projects, the PCRF has drastically changed the lives of over a thousand children in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. The organization has earned endorsements from notable figures including former US President Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu. I sat down to the journalist turned philanthropist, Steve Sosebee to discuss how this phenomenal non-profit organization was built.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the creation of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund?
A: The inspiration came in 1990 when I met a boy from Hebron who had lost his legs and hand, we became friends and I wanted to help him on a more personal level. I saw the response from the American medical community and the Palestinian American community wanting to support treating this boy and taking care of him outside of his country. It didn’t cost anything other than the basic logistical fees. I realized that this is something that could be done on a more sustainable level with the proper coordination and facilitation. When I saw that, I became inspired to do more because I realized it just took someone to coordinate and to link kids who needed help with hospitals, populations, and communities whom are on the outside wanting to find ways to care for these kids.
Q: Since its launch the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund has expanded into a massive reputable organization, what went into developing the organization to what it is today?
A: It took a long time to build the organization’s name and reputation as a clean, hard working, and dedicated organization. It didn’t happen overnight it took a lot of struggle, slow progress, and continued perseverance. We never gave up we never stopped working and we always focused on helping our kids. We stayed away from the politics and religion as being involved in the organization. Our objective was always just to identify kids and get them treatment regardless of their nationality, religion, and regardless of any political motivation. When people saw that they realized that when it comes to treating children there’s no place for politics or religion because these are kids. I think over a long period of time you develop a reputation and you keep working hard. People are looking for ways to be involved and to help and we wanted to give them that. It was slow progress it didn’t happen in one year, it didn’t happen in five years, it happened in twenty years. It was an effort by so many people, not one or two but literally hundreds of people working for the same cause and same effort; making sure that our kids get treatment.
Q: There are a lot of non-profit organizations that are dedicated to helping kids in Palestine and their future, what makes the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund different in helping the overall cause?
A: There are a lot of organizations – a lot of good organizations that deserve support and a lot of them are working in areas like education, democracy, or women’s rights. I applaud them and support them myself. The area that the PCRF is working in and why we’re different from some of these other organizations is, because we’re specializing in surgical needs for children who are injured or have birth defects. We’re focusing on deficiencies in the Palestinian health care system trying to address them. We’re not taking a very broad issue like education, which is very important and deserves support but it also entails vast resources, which are far beyond our ability to raise. What we’re doing is identifying kids who fall through the safety net of the health care system and who fall through the treatment that is available within Palestine or within the Middle East, and we get them the treatment that they need. So it’s much more specialized and that’s the way that PCRF can be more effective and we’re doing something nobody else is doing in that regard.
Q: When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back and feel made the largest impact on those that you set out to help?
A: The greatest source of pride for me is opening the cancer department in Beit Jala Hospital for Children in my late wife, Huda Al Masri’s name. That has had the largest impact because kids with cancer were not getting treatment within the health care system in Palestine and now they are. It’s saving the Ministry of Health, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people tens of millions of dollars every year, which was going outside to Israeli and Jordanian hospitals; now it’s staying within Palestine and building up the health care services. More importantly kids who have cancer can be treated in their own country and not have to travel outside, across checkpoints to foreign countries; especially if its countries that are occupying their own. It was difficult for kids with cancer to get treatment, which may or may not be continued based on the financial support and accessibility due to the political situation. Not knowing whether its possible for them to cross a checkpoint that day or not.
That’s something I’m very proud of, the building of the cancer department and I hope that it is something we can learn do more of, which is making more of those type of programs and projects. Seeing the impact it can have on a large scale on the entire health care system is a very positive one. It’s not only saving money but it’s building up the health care system in other areas as well, not just in cancer. Most importantly its providing Palestinian children care within their own hospitals and in their own country.
Q: In what ways has the PCRF impacted your personal life?
A: It has given me a meaning and purpose in my life. I was always looking for something to do that made me feel like I was serving humanity, and serving a cause I believe in. I’ve always believed in freedom, and working for social justice. I wanted to work for people who are oppressed and suffering from injustice and to do it in a positive way that heals not destroys, and do it in a way that helps those who can not help themselves. That gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and purpose in my life, especially considering that I suffered a personal tragedy of losing my wife who I love very deeply. Something like that puts you in a position where you search for meaning and purpose more than people who have not suffered that type of experience or tragedy. Having the PCRF where I can help heal children and save lives of children has given me a lot of strength to continue through the grieving process of losing my wife and the mother of my children. It enables me to get up in the morning and stay positive and focused on something that’s greater than my own feelings, grieving, and my own personal pain. It gives me a feeling to do something important in my life and to keep going, to not give up and to keep doing something to help others.