Independent Appeal: Where your money goes

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The Independent Online

From time to time the attention of the world falls upon Gaza. But once the violent drama of Israeli incursions or Palestinian rocket attacks is over, the media spotlight moves on. Yet for the children and old people of the region - the innocents who remain to pay the daily price of life in the war zone in which they are imprisoned - very little moves on at all.

The three charities which The Independent is supporting through this year's Christmas Appeal do not leave when the international spotlight fades. They remain, in Gaza and elsewhere, to help the frail and the vulnerable in the task of painfully piecing together their shattered normality. It can be a long and wearying process. And the support they require is unglamorous and continuing.

The first of our charities, The Welfare Association, tries to address their needs. This small British charity supports vital emergency and development projects in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank and in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Its beneficiaries are disabled children, youths psychologically scarred by living in constant crossfire zones, communities who have lost their orchards and olive groves. It is an area where 30 per cent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition and where the needs of the most vulnerable are every bit as urgent as those in more scrutinised poverty zones in Africa or Asia.

Our second charity also works in Gaza, though its tentacles of assistance spread across the globe. Merlin is the only specialist UK charity that responds worldwide with vital health care and medical relief for people caught up in natural disasters, conflict, disease and fragile states in which the health system has entirely collapsed.

In Gaza it is helping hospitals cope with an increased number of emergency admissions, providing extra medical supplies and equipment. It has renovated and improved health centres in many places including the huge Jabalya refugee camp. It runs health education classes for thousand of women a year and has supported child nutrition clinics. It also runs mobile clinics around the West Bank town of Qalqilya, where the Israeli security barrier has severely restricted travel.

But Merlin operates in many other places too. Its staff are to be found working in remote parts of Afghanistan, where a woman has a one in six chance of dying in childbirth. They cross the lines between opposing militias to treat the dispossessed and displaced every day in Darfur.

And they are at work still in the parts of Pakistan devastated by last year's earthquake - a tragedy the rest of the world has all but forgotten.

Our final charity this year is Anti-Slavery International. It too specialises in something of which the rest of us have little consciousness. It is the oldest human rights body in the world and many assume that the problem it addresses is confined to history. But enslavement is a present reality today.

In the Philippines, Brazil and Togo - to name but a few - there are literally millions of children condemned to forms of domestic service which are, in reality, slavery by another name.Anti-Slavery International works to help such people escape from their life of servitude. Along with our other two charities it assists those the rest of the world finds it easy to ignore or forget. Over the next month we shall be bringing you their stories. Our aim is to make the invisible seen.

Merlin

The medical aid charity was set up in the spare bedroom of a house in London, from which it organised its first mission: a convoy bound for Bosnia carrying £1m of food and medicines. Since then it has grown significantly and its work has expanded to cover all aspects of medical aid, from emergency relief to long-term capacity building in fragile states. It has worked in 37 places including: Gaza, where it has restocked blood banks and repaired decrepit medical equipment; Liberia, where it has rebuilt hospitals destroyed by the 14-year civil war; Kenya, where it is treating thousands of malnourished children in drought-affected areas; and on the front line in Darfur. www.merlin.org.uk

The Welfare Association  

This small British charity supports emergency and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Its work includes emergency medical care, disability rehabilitation, IT training, pre-school education, art workshops and a children's club. It replants community orchards and olive groves and supports farmers who have lost land and had their crops destroyed because of Israel's security barrier. It has improved six Palestinian hospitals and rebuilt electricity supplies in Jabalia, the biggest UN refugee camp in Gaza. www.welfareassociation.org.uk

Anti-slavery International

Founded in 1839, it is the world's oldest international human rights organisation and the only charity in the UK to work exclusively against slavery and related abuses. It works at local, national and international levels to eliminate the system of slavery around the world by lobbying governments and working with local organisations to raise public awareness of slavery. It also supports research to assess the scale of slavery in order to identify measures to end it. Among its concerns are child domestic labour, forced labour and the trafficking of people. www.antislavery.org

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