The nonprofit organization that began in the basement of Kent native Steve Sosebee's home, with the mission of providing free, desperately needed medical care to Palestinian children, opened the first and only pediatric cancer clinic in the West Bank on Saturday.
The Huda Al Masri Pediatric Cancer Department, built by Sosebee's Palestinian Children's Relief Fund in the West Bank town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem, will provide free cancer treatment for up to 20 children who otherwise would not be treated because of their social or financial situation.
"It's a beautiful department," Sosebee said. "We've made it very friendly for children and it's really something that we're very proud of and very excited about seeing what can be done when individuals come together and unify for something very positive."
With the celebration of the clinic's opening, seven children have immediately begun cancer treatment, he said.
After graduating from Kent State University with a degree in international relations, and previously visiting the West Bank on a human rights delegation with fellow college students, Sosebee moved overseas and went to work as a freelance writer in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I was coming across a lot of injured kids who needed medical care, but could not be treated locally," Sosebee said. "Within that experience, I befriended a child who had lost both of his legs from a bomb and arranged free care for him in Akron in May of 1990."
As his focus changed to continuing to help children who had been caught in the crossfire of the politically and socially unstable region, Sosebee fell in love and married Huda Al Masry, a Palestinian social worker, with whom he had two daughters. The couple founded PCRF together.
"We built an organization, from this experience of sending one child abroad to Akron, into an organization that is having a pretty significant impact here on the health care of Palestinian children," Sosebee said.
Since 1991, the nonpolitical, nonprofit PCRF has helped thousands of Palestinian children receive critical care for injuries from conflict, heart disease, birth defects and more by sending them to the U.S. as well as bringing volunteer doctors from around the world into the West Bank.
In June 2009, after a battle with leukemia, Huda Sosebee died.
"When she passed away, God rest her soul, you go through a very significant and intense period of grieving and then you have to go on," Sosebee said. "I have one small child and a teenager, and I wanted to do something for them to remember and honor their mother."
Huda's death, and the lack of available cancer treatment in the region, inspired Sosebee to develop a cancer clinic through PCRF, and so he began working to create the Huda Al Masri Pediatric Cancer Department, named in his wife's honor.
Motorcycle runs, mountain climbs, marathons and private donors from around the world raised the $3 million to make the clinic possible, and now the spirit of Huda Sosebee's goodwill will live on through the children's clinic that bears her name.
"She was a great woman. Anybody who met her knew that she had a very strong personality and a great spirit and a great heart, so much to help her people and help children, that she deserved to be recognized," Sosebee said.
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