Poverty and violence put YMCA at risk
The on-going economic crisis in Gaza is having a drastic affect on the YMCA of Gaza’s finances. In this very difficult environment they are trying to continue providing much needed services and hope to the community. The World Alliance is therefore appealing to movements world-wide for urgent financial help for Gaza YMCA.
Why the need: a devastated economy and a violent environment
Four years ago poverty affected one in five Palestinians. Now almost half the population lives in poverty, as incomes have fallen and Palestinians’ assets have been exhausted. Road closures, which are intended to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns, restrict movement of Palestinian people and goods both within West Bank and Gaza and externally. They have devastated the Palestinian economy and continue to severely limit Palestinians’ formerly close economic relationship with Israel. For Gaza, the ratio of imports to exports was 3:1 in January 2004. By June of this year, the figure changed dramatically to 12:1, with minimal commercial supplies now leaving Gaza. 
As the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, Palestinian dependence on donor aid has deepened. Donor aid of almost $1 billion every year since 2000 has prevented soaring malnutrition or the spread of infectious diseases. But despite this large donor aid, today 39% of the population receives food aid.
Besides the Israeli military operations in Palestine, tension between the different Palestinian factions is also a problem. As the violence on all levels increases in Gaza, rule of law is no longer effective so police can often not take action in case of crime. “The atmosphere is very dangerous”, says Isa Saba, the General Secretary of YMCA Gaza. “We in the Gaza Strip are in a battle field on all levels, not only in military terms.” This is confirmed by a press release of 5 Oct 2004 from twelve United Nations organizations working in Gaza stating that the ongoing violence on top of the sharply deteriorating humanitarian situation this year is pushing the Palestinian population into a deep crisis. They voiced their serious concern about the ability of the population to cope. (http://www.reliefweb.int/hic-opt/).
YMCA programmes: respected by all factions
Despite this situation, the leadership of Gaza YMCA is still able to maintain the YMCA as an open place, respected by all factions. Pre-school, art, theatre and other youth programmes continue and the YMCA centre stays open from 9 in the morning till 9 at night, often even until midnight. With only 3’000 Christians in Gaza as part of the 1.4 million Palestinian population, the YMCA services are an important witness to the population.
Nevertheless, the economic situation makes it extremely difficult for the YMCA Gaza to sustain itself with a balanced budget. Members have difficulties to pay their fees and families are taking out their children from the pre-school for one trimester in order to save some money. The accumulated funds of Gaza YMCA decreased from US$ 37’894 at the end of 2002 to US$ 13’878 by 31.12.2003 and the situation ths year has deteriorated to such an extent that Gaza YMCA needs a minimum of US$ 20’000 to run through November and December.
“We can not stop the YMCA”, says Isa Saba.
“As a last resort, we would have to draw from the reserves set aside for termination benefits of staff, because keeping the YMCA alive helps people from despairing”. At the same time, Gaza YMCA is working on different strategies to generate much needed income. The Board of Directors are studying possibilities to optimize existing sources of income as well as to create new income or extend selected programmes.
What you can do
In response to this crisis situation, the World Alliance is launching a solidarity appeal to the World YMCA Movement to mobilize at least US$ 20’000 to secure the running cost of Gaza YMCA for the remaining months of this year. At the same time, World Alliance is studying the possibilities for a Movement Strengthening process with Gaza YMCA under the Global Operating Plan. This strategy was discussed at the meeting of the Middle East YMCAs last month in Egypt.
Please consider showing your solidarity with Gaza YMCA in its difficult situation and encourage their courageous witness by giving whatever you can. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can make a pledge. Thank you.
World Alliance of YMCAs,