The Jewel in the crown of Israel’s humanitarian organisations

By Rolene Marks

In the heart of Holon, a bright, sunny house rings out with the delightful giggles of children. A schedule that looks like a culinary tour of the world is posted outside a pristine kitchen. Mothers, some dressed in the traditional garb of the countries they come from, keep a watchful eye over their tiny charges who are playing with the vast selection of toys, carefully selected for their entertainment. The scene is serene. Peaceful.

Welcome to Save a Child’s Heart.

For over 25 years, this remarkable organisation, through its global network of doctors, family members, volunteers, and supporters of Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) have helped bring life-saving cardiac care to children in need around the world. From around the world they have come – including from countries that Israel has no formal bilateral ties with – and even those we are technically in a state of war with – to receive life-saving surgery.

Heartwarming. The writer with a child patient from abroad receiving life-saving cardiac tretement at the Save A Child’s Heart in Holon, Israel.

It is impossible to visit SACH without falling in love with each of the children. *Mohammed comes from Tanzania, his mother watches as he gleefully plays with some toys. I look at this gorgeous young boy and ask how old he is. I think he cannot be more than 2 years old – he is tiny – but full of life. I am told he is 4 years old. Heart defects can seriously impede the growth of young children.

Saving and Winning Hearts. Israel’s non-profit medical charity Save a Child’s Heart group that provides life-saving heart treatment to children in developing countries wins prestigious UN Population Award from UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres (centre) for “outstanding contributions to the world’s population.”

SACH’s extraordinary work to help save the lives of young children needing critical surgeries has earned the organisation high praise from the most unlikely source – the United Nations. The UN has long been critical of the state of Israel but they truly lauded SACH by awarding it the United Nations’ Population Award, which was presented by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, during an official ceremony at UN headquarters in New York.

Baby from Abroad. Doctors at Save A Child’s Heart examining a young baby from abroad.

Save a Child’s Heart house is a joyful place. Despite all the health challenges that the children are facing, every effort is made to make them feel safe, secure and at home. There are many different kinds of toys to delight the children, dedicated staff who look after the young charges and the parent who is with them; and there are doctors who stay on site so all their medical needs are taken care of.

Top Treatment. Save The Child’s Heart state-of-the-art medical facility at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel.

The kitchen is the heart of the house. Immaculate and well stocked, the kitchen is not just a place to prepare food; but also allows parents to bring a small taste from home to a foreign country. SACH provides the ingredients – and parents whip up a taste from home. There may even be a cookbook in the works…..

Foreign Doctors Programme. Since its founding, Save a Child’s Heart has treated children from over 60 developing countries and trained more than 140 medical professionals from those countries. These include training medical staff (seen here) to treat cardiac problems and other diseases in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Romania, The Palestinian Authority and others. (Photo: Rolene Marks)

Walking in, one is fascinated with the notice board that mentions all of the current patients and how far they are with their treatment. It reads like a veritable atlas. Children come from Eswatini and Tanzania, Romania and Iraq, the West bank, Israel and even as far afield as Afghanistan. They come from all over the world – including countries who Israel has no bilateral relations. Children who come from countries like Syria who are technically still in a state of war with Israel, are aided by third parties such as the UN and brought in via an intermediate country. A guardian, usually their mothers, always accompanies the children. One notable exception was a child from Afghanistan accompanied by her father because under brutal Taliban rule, women are not allowed to travel – at least not without “chaperones”.

Patient’s Progress. A notice board lists the age, home country and progress of the young patients.(Photo: Rolene Marks)

A short drive to nearby Wolfson hospital, the brand new Save a Child’s Heart pediatric centre is buzzing with activity. Recently opened with the generous donations from philanthropists and organisations around the world, most notably Sylvan Adams, this bright, sophisticated centre is host to not only the remarkable surgeries and treatments; but also a training programme that equips medical professionals from around the world with the necessary skills to recreate the same programmes in their own countries.

From the ‘Heart’ of Africa. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kosovo, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia – these are the countries from which 27 children have come with their mothers and caregivers to undergo life-saving heart treatments in Israel through Save a Child’s Heart. Here’s to a house full of smiling heart!

*Maryam from Gaza lies in her state of the art hospital bed, the machines and monitors next to her blinking and beeping. She watches me with her beautiful big brown eyes. Her mother sits vigil by her side as she has for several months. I smile at her. I want her to know we are not enemies. She meets my gaze with weary eyes and offers a small smile. We are human beings making a connection over shared humanity.

Heart of Holon. An anxious Arab mother at the bedside prays for her son attended to at the remarkable Save A Child’s Heart in Holon, Israel.

Save a Child’s Heart is not only saving lives. They are building a bridge of peace, one child at a time. Governments may sign agreements but it is people who create peace, one relationship at a time.

There is no greater example of this than Save a Child’s Heart

Israeli Life Saver. The 7-floor Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) International Pediatric Cardiac Center (IPCC) and Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital houses all of the infrastructure and equipment needed to perform life-saving cardiac treatments, including all pre- and post-operative care for thousands of children in Israel and from around the world. (Photo: Rolene Marks)

*Names changed to protect their identities

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

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