NGOs join together to aid civilians under attack

Volunteers from various organizations help out with this ad-hoc project.

call center 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
call center 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
It's Monday morning - day 10 of Israel's Operation Cast Lead to stop Hamas from firing rockets into southern towns and cities - and the fifth floor of Yad Sarah's Jerusalem headquarters is buzzing with activity. Some 20 volunteers, mostly young students from a wide variety of non-profit organizations, are frantically answering telephones, writing notes on large, haphazardly-cut pieces of paper and searching out the volunteer coordinator to be assigned their next task. "Yesterday our volunteers [in the call center] received more than 500 telephone calls from both citizens and professionals asking for information or assistance," says Avital Sellah, who is in charge of volunteer activity for the newly created Kulanu Beyahad (We are all together), a collaboration of more than 40 non-government organizations (NGOs) who have come together at Yad Sarah over the past few days to share their skills and expertise in an effort to help Israeli citizens living in the besieged southern region in anyway they can. Among the organizations involved in this ad-hoc project are social welfare organization Yad Sarah, which donated its existing infrastructure, transportation, medical equipment and network of volunteers; the National Students Association; the Council of Youth Movements; food distribution charity Meir Panim (which hosted the joint NGO efforts during the Second Lebanon war); SELA - Israel's Crisis Management Center, and dozens of smaller NGOs based in the South. Sellah, who works for the patriotic non-profit Merimim et Hedegel (Raising the Flag), highlights that as well as answering telephone calls, hundreds of volunteers are being dispatched on a daily basis to the frontline communitie. There they are providing physical and emotional relief to those people, especially the children, confined to public bomb shelters for the past week-and-a-half. "Every place has a different level of preparedness and every city has very different needs," says Sellah. This combined effort, she says, has connected families from the South with hosts elsewhere in the country, sending individuals to answer municipal hot lines and posting medical professionals in certain locations where more volunteers are needed. "Yesterday we sent down a team of psychologists and doctors to visit the bomb shelters," Sellah continues. "But we've also been sending counselors from youth movements to run activities for the children. Many parents still have to go out to work and have no choice but to leave their children behind in the shelters." On Monday, the organization sent a busload of volunteers to visit the soldiers wounded in the ground offensive that started in Gaza on Sunday. Roughly 30 remain hospitalized in Ashkelon and Beersheba. While the work in the field is essential, Sellah points to the call center as key to pulling all the volunteering efforts together. "We have the resources to connect people and professionals to all the services they need," claims Sellah - adding, however, that there is a problem with communication and many members of the public do not know that we are here and can help them. "We could be doing much, much more." Aside from providing essential information and practical assistance, Sellah says that Kulanu Beyahad's other main goal is to try to "raise the spirits" of residents in the South and the soldiers heading out to the battlefield. "We are preparing to start a drive to collect equipment for those in the South, including the soldiers," he says, adding that those who are interested in donating toys, art supplies and other goodies to help pass the time for people in the shelters or for soldiers can call the Kulanu Beyahad's help line, which is *6445 from any phone. The *6445 hot line, which includes Hebrew, English, Russian, and Amharic-speakers, is also for anybody who needs information or assistance or has questions regarding the security situation.