Velma Harasen, national president of the CWL

‘Velma’s Dream’ comes true as CWL teams up with CNEWA

By  Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register
  • April 25, 2012

The old city of Jerusalem may seem like a great place to visit or make a pilgrimage to, but it actually comes with its share of social problems, according to Carl Hétu.

“There’s a lot of poverty, a lot of school dropouts, a lot of drugs, alcohol, violence and theft within the old city,” said Hétu, the Canadian national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, an organization that helps support the pastoral mission and institutions of the Catholic Church in the Mideast.

With this in mind, CNEWA has joined forces with the Catholic Women’s League of Canada in “Velma’s Dream,” a fundraising initiative aimed at alleviating some of the problems there, namely getting youth off the streets. 

Velma Harasen, the national president of the CWL, said this is more than just a catchy name with a personal touch — it really is her dream.

“My dream was always to have an international project that our league sisters across the country could embrace,” said Harasen. “It’s been a dream of mine since (the CWL) established the theme centred on faith and justice, and (focused on) women against poverty.”

Velma’s Dream will raise money to support the education program of the Infant Welfare Centre in the old city, which works at getting youth — both Christian and non-Christian — who have dropped out of school back into the classroom. It does so by teaming up teachers with psychologists and psychiatrists who help youth find new ways to approach their studies and accompany the students through their reintegration to school until their graduation date.

Hétu said expanding the resources and the reach of the program will have a very real impact on the society at large.

“This project deals … with schools, teachers and parents to take care of school dropouts, who are on the streets and have no means,” said Hétu. “(It’s) to bring them back in school, to help them finish school and … become full citizens of the old city.

“(It) will allow them to have better jobs … and be more involved in their community later on.” 

Both Hétu and Harasen say now is a very appropriate time to look to this part of the world.

“Since 2009, the Holy Father has been calling for Catholics all over the world to pay special attention to Christians in the Holy Land and in the Middle East,” said Hétu. “This initiative comes at a time when the Holy Father has asked for this particular priority.”

“The Holy Land is the centre of our faith, and Christians are now only about two per cent (of the population),” added Harasen, who visited Jerusalem about a year and a half ago. “It’s a real spiritual poverty for us, and a real injustice. The holy sites (are) not just spiritual, they are almost like a tourist attraction. You sense the struggles of the Christians there.”

This is the first time that the CWL has partnered with the Canadian chapter of CNEWA, which was formed in 2005 (internationally, CNEWA has been around since 1926), and Hétu hopes this will spark future projects between the two groups. For now, Velma’s Dream is the focus and, for Harasen, this means her dream really is being realized.

“We’re going to appeal to our members across Canada… and hopefully we can continue to support our sisters in poverty (in the Holy Land),” said Harasen.

“We’re very confident that with God’s help, it’s going to be a dream come true.”

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