Interview with President and Founder of PCRF Steve Sosebee
At The Viewpoint News we had the opportunity to interview, President and CEO of PCRF (Palestine Children’s Relief Fund) Steve Sosebee. Some of you may have already heard of this reputable Organization, and for those of you who haven’t, now is your chance. In this interview you will have the opportunity to learn about the founder, what the organization stands for, projects they are working on, how you can get involved, etc.
Q: Thank you for participating in this interview with The Viewpoint News. Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
A: I am from a small college town called Kent, Ohio. My father was a high school teacher and my mother a nurse. I have four sisters and worked my way through college and have a degree in International Relations. I was raised to work for and support the cause of justice and freedom, and went to Palestine in December of 1988 on a human right’s delegation of other students to see firsthand the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was a trip that changed my life.
Q: What made you want to visit Palestine?
A: I had studied the Middle East, history and politics, and when the first intifada erupted, it was a historical moment. I was active as a student in human rights and strongly believed in the Palestinian cause. I had a chance through the ADC’s “Eyewitness Israel” program to go and see firsthand what was happening during winter break of 1988, and it gave me the chance to see with my own eyes rather than reading in newspapers or hearing from biased professors what was going on.
Q: What inspired you to create PCRF?
A: I was inspired by the courage and humanity of the children who I was meeting while working in Palestine as a journalist, many who were being injured and having their lives altered in a terribly inhumane and unjust manner, through the support of my tax money. I wanted to do something positive for them, out of love and solidarity, to show them that people outside care, that Americans do care, when they see the truth and understand what really is going on there.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about PCRF?
A: It is a nonpolitical, nonreligious, nonprofit humanitarian medical relief organization with over 25 years experience in helping children get free medical care and other humanitarian aid, regardless of their sect, nationality, politics or religion. We arrange free care abroad for children who cannot be treated in their homeland, we sponsored volunteer missions of doctors and nurses from all over the world to treat patients for free in local hospitals, and we do humanitarian projects on the ground there to help alleviate the hardship of military occupation, siege, poverty and neglect on the lives of innocent children. We have six offices in the West Bank, three in Gaza, and one in Beirut and Jordan, where we help any child in need. We have a brave and hard working staff of 45 people all over the region, and hundreds of volunteers in over 38 chapters all over the world, and thousands of volunteer medical personnel who treat our kids. We are proud to be one the main grassroots charities in the Middle East saving the lives of children and have the support of people who want to do something positive for sick and needy children.
Q: Can you give us an example of the Occupation by Israel making it difficult for these children to receive help?
A: The challenges we face are not only imposed by the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but all over the region. Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip, for example, makes it very hard to get kids out for treatment of medicine and materials in, for their own “security” requirements. There are other challenges from the Jordanian government restricting Gaza people from entering the Kingdom, the PA in the West Bank and their relations in Gaza, the behavior of the regime in Gaza, and so on and so forth. We are working hard to be nonpolitical and do our job in an area where every aspect of life – the air, water, health care, movement, education, etc. – is controlled and implicated by politics. It’s a huge challenge for us.
Q: Are there certain illnesses/diseases that are more common in certain regions (Gaza vs. Refugee Camps, Palestine vs. Syria, etc.) and why?
A: Of course in Syria and Gaza you see more trauma because of the conflicts going on there, while in the West Bank you may see a higher level of something needed that cannot be treated locally, say scoliosis or congenital heart disease. We are managing to provide hundreds of children a year in each area highly specialized operations.
Q: What sets PCRF apart from other organizations?
A: I think being nonpolitical and nonreligious is one thing, and also that we are able to implement our work ourselves and not depend on other NGOs to do what we can do. Also, we are highly scrutinized by the US government and by auditing firms and groups who determine our level of accountability and transparency, and we are very proud to say that we have a perfect score of 100 from Charity Navigator for that, which I doubt many other charities in Palestine can say.
Q: What are some big projects that PCRF is working on now?
A: The biggest, of course, is building the new pediatric cancer department in Gaza, for the thousands of children there who need specialized care but cannot get it locally. It’s an enormous challenge for us to do this project, but we are working hard to raise the funds to make it a reality, as we did in Beit Jala three years ago. We also are joining partners in Lebanon to fund the building of a dialysis department for refugees in Badawi area near Tripoli. We also are building a pediatric cardiac program in Ramallah Hospital, which will save lives, and a palliative care program for children with cancer in the West Bank.
Q:How can people in Canada make a difference or contribute?
A: They can volunteer and start new PCRF chapters, or join our new chapter in Ontario. We would love to get kids there for medical care, send doctors from Canada to volunteer on missions, and of course to donate through our website, www.PCRF.net
Q: How can other NGOs or other charities learn from PCRF’s success?
A: I think the main thing is to be very accountable to your community and donors, to be very transparent and to share as much information as possible with your donors and supporters, and give people a chance to be involved in helping. Treat people with respect and kindness, but run the organization as if it was a business, so that we stay efficient, transparent and accountable.
Q: How can other organizations work with or support PCRF?
A: We welcome partnerships with other NGOs who want to do something good for the children in the Middle East. They just need to reach out to us and we are happy to hear from them, as long as they share our humanistic values.
Q: We don’t often see the true struggle of Palestinians due to the occupation, on mainstream media. There is typically censorship; the ongoing issues are not shown. As a Journalist, who has seen it all in person, how do you think that can be changed?
A: I think social media has given people the ability to share stories and create content that can help break down the walls that exist around the Palestinian issue, and to let people know better what is going on and how to have an impact on the lives of people there.
Q: Would you like to add anything?
A: I would just like to add how honoured I am to serve the people of Palestine and the children in the larger Middle East in a positive way, to heal their children and to show them love and solidarity for their struggle for justice, peace, and freedom. I think these are human values that anyone from any background or religion should embrace.