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Each of these projects alleviates the housing needs of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but the demand far exceeds what church agencies are able to construct with the limited funds available. CNEWA, however, has taken a different approach. Instead of building new housing, CNEWA helps people like Osana renovate their existing housing.

George Sahokian and his wife, Vivian, live in the apartment in which he was born, along with their four children and his grandmother. The building is many centuries old; it once served as caravan lodgings. One window of their apartment looks out on a pool used as a water reservoir in the time of Jesus; in recent times it has dried up and become a rubbish dump.

George’s apartment consisted of a room used for living and sleeping, plus a kitchen with a crude lavatory in one corner. CNEWA’s Jerusalem staff helped him put in a decent bathroom with a small loft above it. Now his three older children sleep in the loft, while he, Vivian and their month-old son, along with George’s grandmother, share the lower room. Most would consider this family’s accommodations still very crowded, but the renovation represents a real quality-of-life improvement.

Some Christians would like to move to escape the cramped conditions of the Old City. They cannot; their jobs are in Jerusalem and moving out of that city would jeopardize their Israeli-issued Jerusalem identity cards. Without a Jerusalem ID, Palestinians need special permits to enter Jerusalem to work, or even to go to church. These permits, which are hard to obtain, are void whenever Israel closes the borders with the West Bank. The unemployment rate in the West Bank hovers between 30 and 40 percent, making moving there unappealing. Thus Christians with apartments in Jerusalem hang onto them, however crowded or rundown they may be.

George Abu Rakabeh earns about $460 a month as a hotel janitor. He has lived in the same apartment for 18 years, with his wife, Nabihah, and their four children. One room doubled as a living and sleeping room and another as a kitchen and bath. The apartment, however, was in very bad repair. One of their sons received a severe shock from faulty electrical wiring; the roof leaked and the walls were damp. With CNEWA’s help, George was able to put in new wiring, repair the roof and add an outdoor balcony as a play area for the children. The balcony is small – about 3 by 10 feet – but it provides welcome relief: the living-sleeping room is virtually filled by a bed and two couches, leaving little space for the children to play indoors.

CNEWA’s Project Coordinator, Mrs. Rose Karborani, helped Osana and the two Georges with their renovations. A native of the Old City, Rose received a degree in civil engineering from Israel’s top technology school, Technion University in Haifa. She worked for an Israeli consulting engineering firm before receiving a scholarship to study urban planning and infrastructure in France. Now Rose uses her skills to improve the housing of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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Tags: CNEWA Jerusalem Economic hardships Homes/housing