Despite his wayward lifestyle, however, he married and fathered three children, but I could not support them, he recalls sadly. By then he was deep into heroin. It was after his arrest and imprisonment that he was directed to the House of Grace. There he found the kindness, love and care he had never encountered as a child. He has been there now for more than six months, participating to the full in community life.
A former resident let us call him Efraim was in such an emotional and financial state after his marriage failed that he saw suicide as the only escape. He had already chosen the spot where he would carry out his plan: the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But gradually he changed his mind. He walked from the Sea of Galilee to Haifa, then walked south to Tel Aviv, surviving on leftovers and sleeping on the beach. After several months, Efraim realized suicide was not the solution. Back in Haifa he contacted the city welfare department, which referred him to the House of Grace.
He remained there for three months with people of all backgrounds ex-convicts, ex-drug addicts and the homeless. As a Jew, he found it difficult at first to get along with the mainly Arab residents.
During this time I learned many new things about myself and about life in general, Efraim remembers. I began to regain my self-confidence and to rebuild my whole personality.
He has now returned to his job as an electrical engineer and lives in his own apartment.
I have a new family now, he says, the Shehade family and the House of Grace, with all its staff and residents, whom I shall always cherish.
In addition to its residents, the House of Grace helps literally thousands of poor families in the Haifa area, giving them food or Christmas parcels; perhaps helping them write letters, especially to government or municipal agencies.
It is difficult for people in our community to ask for help, says Elias. We emphasize their dignity. We consider them part of a big family.
Last year the House of Grace organized four summer camps for 3,500 schoolchildren who would not otherwise have had a vacation.
The House of Grace also helps finance the education of gifted pupils whose parents cannot afford the tuition fees of local church-run schools. In addition, about 230 college students both here and abroad receive some contribution, however small on condition that they return to work in their home community.
Kamil established the House of Grace with little support, moral or financial. Now he finds himself hailed by the civil authorities; indeed, in 1990 he received a prize from the President of Israel.
I was the first Christian Israeli Arab to win such a prize, Kamil says.
Such praise is rarely translated into hard cash, however. So far the state pays only the costs associated with the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners. Kamil faces a constant battle to find funds; only careful stewardship has kept the annual deficit below one percent of the operating costs. CNEWAs Jerusalem office has been a reliable supporter of Kamils work for many years.
Local welfare authorities in Haifa regularly refer clients to Kamil, who seeks to help everyone, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim or of no faith at all.
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Tags: Israel Melkite Greek Catholic Church Socioreligious programs Substance Abuse