In September 2010, Project-Peace on Earth (PPOE) lead by Founder and Ceo Steve Robertson took famed eye surgeon Dr. Paul Dougherty and his surgical team to Palestine as part of PPOE’s humanitarian outreach programs. On September 28-29, 2010; the surgical mission restored sight (free cataract surgeries) to 40 to mostly elderly and indigent refugees in Palestine. Michael Garcia, former VP of Development for HBO and PPOE Steering Committee member, attended the Palestine trip and Directed a soon to be released documentary film called “Visions of Peace”:
September 28-29, 2010 Medical Mission: To deliver free cataract surgical procedures to 40 underprivileged Palestinian people and UNRWA refugees.
This medical mission was originally planned to be part of the post PPOE concert (September 25th, 2010) activities. On Friday, September 24th, following months of planning and late-late nights, we made our first official journey. PPOE team members Steve Robertson, Colin Mangham, and Michael Garcia traveled with Dr. Paul Dougherty and his two surgical assistants, Alexis and Marshall Jacobe, from Los Angeles’ LAX airport to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv Israel. We then traveled via United Nations transport through Jerusalem, into Bethlehem, on to Hebron and back to Jerusalem.
As we had been in production planning for months leading up to our original concert target date of September 25, 2010 we had also looked to produce a medical conference and deliver cataract surgical procedures to the elderly and other underprivileged people including UNRWA refugees in Palestine. We began working with St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem to coordinate the cataract surgical gifts being offered by our PPOE colleague, Dr. Paul Dougherty, widely considered to be one of the world’s leading eye surgeons.
Around the first of September, which notably marked the reinstatement of internationally sanctioned peace accord dialogue between Palestine and Israel, PPOE was informed by USAID that funds previously allocated for the concert were being diverted to more immediate and critical needs in the Gaza Strip, chiefly to help mitigate heightening political issues between Hamas and Fatah. As an unfortunate result, without these funds the Concert would have to be rescheduled.
With plans for the cataract procedures already in place, and patients’ expectations now depending on this PPOE medical mission, Paul and Alexis jumped into action to source the necessary medical supplies. At the same time Sami Khouri at ABS Marketing in Ramallah and Fritz Froehlich of UNRWA set out to procure the necessary funds to transport the medical and production teams, locate hotels and ground transportation, and also help get all of the medical supplies secured to fulfill the promise of gifting vision back to 40 deserving Palestinian people.
Dr. Jeanne Garth at St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem worked closely with me, Paul and Alexis to do the preparatory background eye examinations and evaluations. Alexis worked tirelessly – seriously, in the truest definition of the word – to secure donations of all of the medical supplies, lenses, and disposables required for the procedures from suppliers and manufacturers. Colin worked what seemed like day and night to help finalize the budget and marketing materials. Michael continued to think through logistics and support me any way he could. And Sami, Fritz, and I worked the phones and blasted out emails looking for the funding to cover the transportation, accommodations and other hard costs.
With about a week left before the scheduled dates, and with the whole mission hanging in the balance, Fritz called to inform me that he had received a funding commitment from his friend Dalell Mohmed at KinderUSA to help with the trip costs. A few days later on September 16, only eight days from our planned departure date on the 24th, Alexis called brimming with excitement to inform me that she had gotten the last and final required donation of disposable surgical packages.
We now had to come up with the rest of the money to put the team on a plane and find a way to ship all of the supplies. The final weekend was heavy upon us. We had less than a week to go and still not nearly enough money. I drove from Los Angeles 90 miles to the home I owned out of town and where I had a real estate agent inventorying the house to sell all the furniture so it could be leased.
Candidly, my back-up plan was to use this money to in part or total to fund the airline tickets. The furniture sale as it turned out generated less than $4,000 – not even close to enough to purchase the airline tickets, and on top of this I was still were looking at an additional $2,000 to overnight ship all of the medical supplies (which, by the way, we managed to transport in four very large and conspicuous bags through some of the toughest airport security in the world – this is for another story).
After days and days of phone calls, often ending at 4am, trying to sell all of my furniture, I must say I was both physically, emotionally exhausted. That Saturday night of September 18th, just six day before our medical team was to get on a plane to Tel Aviv, I decided just to surrender. I had done everything and all I could possibly do. With this decision there came a sense of calm. I knew that I and everyone on our team had done all that could have possibly been done. I didn’t know how things were going to be taken care of … however I had a strong sense that it would. All I could do was detach and turn it over into God’s hands, where it was already.
The following morning I awoke relaxed, at peace and feeling assured that everything was going to work out. I did my regular mediation and completed my prosperity affirmation. I decided to drive to the nearby Starbucks, get a cup of coffee and check for emails. As I sat and started to sip my coffee and sort through emails looking hopefully for a reply of support, at precisely 9:53 am, my cell phone rang. It was Sami … “Some good news, Steve.”
I thought to myself, I could sure use some Good News. He continued, “Hashim Shawa, the President of the Bank of Palestine, has committed $20,000 to cover all of the airline tickets, and Sami (Abu-Dayyeh) at the Ambassador Hotel will cover all of the rooms and put on a thank you function for the team.” Tears poured from my eyes. I was overwhelmed with a soulful gratitude and thanks that, even now, is so humbling to describe. I thanked Sami over and over again through my tears and quivering voice. The trip was now on.
Our adventures in finding a way to transport all of our medical supplies to St. John’s, all of the amazing people we met, the eye opening perspectives of the scope of Israeli settlements in Palestine, the in-depth interviews on the conflict and the perspective of people who were given new vision will all be the subject of a documentary film called “Visions of Peace,” being directed by Michael and produced by Colin and myself. The team was filming almost the whole time and captured some amazing footage. More to come soon, but for now, in this moment…
To each generous person who donated funds, accommodations, services, medical supplies and even music; who helped to advise us; who serves on our PPOE Steering and/or Advisory team …
To Paul Dougherty, Colin Mangham and Michael Garcia who took time out of their typically wall-to-wall weekly schedules to fully embrace this mission now accomplished …
To Todd Brown and Kenny Fields at West Post Digital, who have supported PPOE with office space, technical expertise, post-production services, big hearts and much more …
To our own PPOE colleagues Gregory Markel and Marc Scarpa, and Paul’s team Alexis and Marshall Jacobe …
To each organization and person listed in the video credits, including Dr. Khuloud Daibes (Palestinian Tourism Minister), Hashim Shawa (Bank of Palestine), Sami Abu-Dayyeh (NET Tours), Sami Khoury (ABS), Fritz Froehlich (UNRWA), Dr. Jeanne Garth, Dr. Abdul Malek Jaber, Dr. Riyadh, Dallel Mohmed (KinderUSA), Said Murad (Sabreen), and Dr. Kayed Kalayka …
And to everyone, every kind person who offered to help, made a small contribution, offered a kind word of encouragement…a prayer for success…
I thank you from my heart.
In fact, we all thank you from our hearts. We did this all together. We collectively made a difference in the lives of 40 very deserving and grateful people. We’ve helped show the world that we can each make a difference in bringing love and healing to one another…a step toward, yes indeed, peace on earth.