In 1990, during the first Palestinian uprising, American journalist Steve Sosbee was on assignment in the West Bank with The Washington Report when he came across a 10-year-old boy, who had lost both of his legs, his eye and hand. As Mr. Sosbee and the boy became friends, Steve reached out to his community in Ohio and secured the necessary medical treatments for the young boy, free of charge. Upon realizing this is something that could be done on a more sustainable level with proper coordination and facilitation, Steve left his job as a journalist and founded the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (“PCRF”) in 1991.
“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” – Steve Sosebee
Since then, the PCRF grew to become the main NGO in the Middle East arranging free medical care for sick and injured children who cannot be treated in their home countries adequately. The primary objective of the PCRF is to identify and treat every child in the Middle East in need of specialized surgery not available to them due to economic, social or political constraints.
This success is made possible through an operating model, built on efficiency, transparency and integrity, which harnesses trust in donors, enabling the PCRF, which is fully funded through charitable donations, to raise the funds it needs to run its operations.
Other than a small group of 40 social workers and support staff based across the Middle East, the operations of the PCRF are run by 30 chapters, composed of volunteers, located all over the world, from Boston to Amman, Italy to Cape Town, who act as host families, translators, coordinators, fundraisers and event organizers.
With the assistance of the chapters, the PCRF provides medical access to children in three ways:
- Volunteer Medical Missions One of the ways that the PCRF provides specialized medical care for children is by locating, sponsoring and running volunteer medical missions in the region. The medical missions span a variety of specialties from pediatric cardiac to urology to orthopedics. This impacts the community in two ways, firstly, it provides children with access to expert medical advice and treatments, and secondly, it provides the local medical practitioners with training on medical best practices and new procedures. This enables both the patients and the local doctors to access some of the world’s best medical practitioners – an opportunity otherwise not feasible without the coordination and presence of the PCRF (in 2014 alone, the PCRF coordinate 90 volunteer missions who carried out 1,898 operations and screened over 4,000 children)
- Medical treatments abroad in certain difficult or unique medical cases, the PCRF, through it’s chapters, work on finding a doctor or a hospital abroad who agree to conduct the necessary medical treatments, either for a fee or free of charge. In these cases, the child requires a treatment or series of treatments which are too specialized in nature to be performed in the child’s home country, either due to lack of infrastructure or lack of trained medical practitioners (In 2014, 90 children were sent abroad for medical treatments)
- Building sustainable solutions in recent years, the PCRF launched several projects to support it’s mission to provide a sustainable solution to healthcare problems in the region. In April, 2013 the PCRF opened the first and only public cancer department for children in the West Bank and in 2015, the PCRF announced it’s plan to build a similar center Gaza. In a recent NPR interview about the project, Steve Sosbee explained that the “children who are suffering from cancer have virtually no care at all in the Gaza Strip… the most basic chemotherapy, pain management, palliative care and so on being unavailable in Gaza is just a huge burden on the health care system, on the families and most importantly, on the patients”.
What makes the PCRF’s success so compelling is their capability to achieve such tremendous impact in extremely volatile and challenging geopolitical situations – something the private sector is often not capable of doing in the Middle East. Since inception, the PCRF has treated over 11,000 children, and continues to do so by running an operating model that is efficient and transparent. For example, when it comes to measuring operational efficiency, two measures widely used are program expenses, which represent the percentage of charity’s expenses spent on programs and services it delivers, and fundraising expenses, which is the percentage of expenses spent on fundraising efforts. When it comes to program expenses, 89.5% of PCRF’s total expenses are spent on services and 1.9% spent on fundraising. Compare that with the American Cancer society and Make-a-Wish foundation who spend 61% and 75% of their expenses on services respectively, and 33.9% and 13.8% of their expenses on fundraising. This operational excellence is precisely what continues to drive the PCRF’s success and attracts dedicated, passionate volunteers and donors.
- Palestine Children’s Relief Fund website http://www.pcrf.net and annual report http://bit.ly/1TCbEuQ
- National Public Radio “PR http://n.pr/1OSlJoe
- Personal experience