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Save A Child’s Heart – Visits Woodford

October 27, 2013

Maybe it was because it was also the final of the Great British Bake Off, but it was a smaller than expected audience when Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) came to Woodford to speak about their work and how they gained recognition from the United Nations.  However, I think it is fair to say that everyone who attended was pleased that they did have the opportunity to learn about this amazing organisation.

Rabbi Richard Jacobi introduced the evening, explaining how he happened to be sitting next to Hannah Shabatai on a flight to London from Israel.  Hannah, who lives in Geneva and originally trained to be pianist before making a career in the United Nations (UN), is now President of SACH in Switzerland.  By the time the flight was over, she had not only explained the work of this Israeli charity, but also the fascinating story of how it gained recognition from the UN for its humanitarian work.  Richard extended an invitation to Hannah, a frequent visitor to the UK, to come to Woodford to retell the story to our members and guests.

Hannah started her talk by screening a short video called ‘Betty’s Story’ that told the story of Betty a young girl from Ethiopia born with a congential heart defect and who, without surgery, was unlikely to live into her teens.  SACH brought Betty to the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, Israel where their doctors (working in their own time and without charge) performed the operation she needed.  As the video explained – two doctors one Jewish and one Muslim worked together to save the life of a Christian girl from another country.

SACH not only brings children, who need life saving heart surgery, to Israel they also undertake training missions to those developing countries; helping to create local centers of excellence around the world.  They currently have a training mission underway in Tanzania – see their blog – where patients have also come Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo.

SACH was founded by Dr Amram (Ami) Cohen z”l – an American who served in Korea and saw how children were being sent overseas for medical care then not available in Korea.  Later, when he was cardiac surgeon at the Wolfson Medical Centre, he founded SACH after an Ethiopian doctor referred two children to him who were in desperate need for cardiac care that could not be provided in Ethiopia.  Since its inception in 1995, SACH has helped over 3,000 children from 47 countries – including neighbouring states such as Syria and Palestine without regard to race, religion, etc.

As the SACH mission statement says: “SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, colour, gender or financial situation

Hannah went on to explain how she used her knowledge of how the UN worked to help SACH gain UN recognition for its humanitarian work.  They knew that they had to work behind the scenes to do their best to help ensure that the vote went in their favour.  To an extent this necessitated a divide and conquer approach – splitting the committee members into three groups; friendly, persuadable, or opposed to the resolution.  Diplomatic efforts concentrated on getting the persuadable to vote in favour of UN recognition.

Hannah said that all the diplomats knew their stuff and were aware of the humanitarian work being done by SACH but never the less SACH was called back to answer questions raised by the committee.

SACH stressed it non-political nature – they leave the politics to others – and how they treat children in need without regard to nationality, religion, colour, etc.  They also stressed their role in training medical staff – having visited 15 countries and trained over 80 doctors in Israel (also done free of charge).  The diplomatic effort paid off – as was demonstrated by the fact the delegation from Palestine supported SACH.

Walter Felman, chair of SACH UK, explained how difficult it is for SACH to present its case in the UK because various organisations are reluctant to hear from Israel based charities.  They have a portable exhibition that could be put on display very easily but they often get refused permission to put the exhibition in public places.

After the speakers, there was a short question and answer session from which we learnt that:

  • SACH has sister organisations in many countries – UK, Switzerland, USA, Canada, and more – who all help to SACH by raising funds for their work

  • It is estimated that each operation costs about US $10,000 – this figure is calculated by dividing the total costs by the number of operations performed

  • Some funding is provided by government agencies – for example the European Union provides funding for the Heart of the Matter project in Palestine

  • SACH is very proud of the work it does in Palestine and of the relationships it is building with doctors, nurses, patients, etc in the Palestine

  • Children are referred to SACH via clinics in their home country and the full medical history is checked before children are brought to Israel

  • Due to the nature of congential cardiac conditions, the earlier that treatment can be done the better chance of survival

  • UN recognition helps to open doors and gain support from other countries or non-governmental organisations

  • UN recognition is also a good news story for Israel – when so much negative news is made about Israel

  • SACH accepts that they were lucky in that the committee who voted was not packed by nations opposed to Israel, although they worked hard to get a Yes vote

  • SACH would love to show the film and make a presentation to local Mosques and the wider Muslim community – WLS to discuss with local Mosque

At the end of the presentations, we presented SACH with a small cheque to support their ongoing work and a further donation was made thanks to a generous donations from those in attendance. 

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