At a time when Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney are detained for attempting to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza, at a time when toys, food and medical supplies are lingering elusively at the gates of the city, and the imposed blockade continues to exacerbate millions of lives, the residents of Gaza continue to live their daily tragedy in silence, in face of a world that has grown weary and apathetic to their cause.
The malaise following the December war continues to haunt millions of people, who have become desperately poverty-stricken. Devastated homes and neighbourhoods have become typical scenery, scarcity of food common, unemployment the norm, and increased rates of disease an inevitably which even if curable, lacks the necessary medical supplies and treatment.
Gaza has become synonymous with wars, destruction, and poverty. No wonder only a few are aware of the rich history and culture buried beneath decades and centuries of rubble so eloquently detailed in “Life at the Crossroads: A History of Gaza” by Gerald Butt recently re-published in 2009.
It has not been an easy task for HCI to reach out to the residents of Gaza. HCI’s resources and effort this year have been dedicated to this challenging task. The arduous journey however, has been rewarding and possible due to the perseverance of our team and supporting partners both in Gaza and the West Bank. Most recently a developmental initiative has been launched in support of families suffering from the now ubiquitous food-shortage and unemployment.
OFFERING CAPABILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES
After extensive research and inquiry, and in spirit of HCI’s aim to offer sustainable developmental solutions, poultry keeping presented a feasible and manageable project, one that also plays an important socio-cultural role in Gaza. Poultry keeping makes use of family labour, mainly women, who are major beneficiaries.
The Agricultural Support for Smallholder Farmers and Food-Insecure Households initiative is currently assisting families in setting up small poultry-keeping businesses. Areas and direct beneficiaries have been screened and selected by HCI and its local partners, the Aid and Hope Centre for the Care of Cancer Patients and the Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls NGO. The designate areas comprising most of Gaza, share the same characteristics: elevated poverty, gravely affected by the war, high unemployment rate especially among the women population and finally suitable environmental and physical conditions for backyard production.
Each of the beneficiary families is provided with a flock consisting of approximately 100 birds. These flocks are managed by the individual farm families in order to secure food, income, and provide a form of employment mainly for women. Each farm family is provided with the necessary equipment, livestock and technical assistance required to implement the project. In addition, a local team of semi-volunteers consisting of veterinarians and agricultural engineers has been formed to assist in the distribution of livestock, equipments, technical assistance and follow up to ensure the success and sustainability of the individual businesses.
For many of these families, the poultry business is the sole means of livelihood, contributing to the overall well-being of these food-insecure households.
The small business also presents one of few opportunities for low-income, food-deficient families to save and invest, hence securing them from many unforeseeable risks. In addition to being a major income-generating activity (the sales of birds and eggs), the occasional consumption of either meat or eggs provides a valuable source of protein necessary for a healthy and nutritious diet which is generally lacking.
SHARING KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND EXPERTISE: THE TRAINING
Representatives from each family were invited to attend the training workshop for the Agricultural Support for Smallholder Farmers and Food-Insecure Households initiative that took place in Gaza. The training was a prerequisite for running the poultry business.
The purpose of the workshop was to familiarize the prospective business owners with the technical, medical, and managerial skills necessary to run and sustain a poultry-keeping business. The training underlined the importance of development as an alternative to aid. In addition, it was intended to help the trainees, particularly women, acquire the knowledge and expertise needed in setting up small businesses.
IN DEPTH: THE LIVES OF THREE GAZAN FAMILIES
“Living below the poverty line”, is a phrase no longer representative of the reality it once aimed to depict. It is insufficient, impersonal and ambiguous–a statement that generates nothing more than statistical controversy nowadays. Unfortunately the reality itself remains–uncontroversial and unaltered. Hunger and unemployment continue to govern the lives of millions in Gaza.
The story of three families in particular comes to us as a reminder of the true meaning of war and sanctions, of their repercussions, suffered by none other than innocent children and families who alone bear the brunt of conflict, destruction, poverty, hunger, and disease.
HOPE IN DESPAIR: THE MOBAEED FAMILY
Poverty is not merely a state of deprivation. It is a process that compels those implicated to redefine their priorities. In such cases of extreme poverty, nourishment and shelter take precedent while health and general well-being very rarely are considered. Sometimes however, the perpetual stress of survival takes its toll, exacerbated only by negligence and lack of awareness.
Last March, 37 year-old Nidhal Al-Mobaeed, mother to seven children, stumbled upon representatives from the Aid and Hope Centre for the Care of Cancer patients at the Women Affairs Centre bazzar in Gaza during their awareness campaign for the early detection of breast cancer sponsored by Human Concern International.
That day she was duly briefed about the mammograms test which is among the best early detection methods for breast cancer among women. Few days passed before Nidhal decided to go for her free examination. She and her husband recall that day with much sorrow, the day when Nidhal was informed she is suffering from a malignant form of breast cancer, one that warrants surgery and the complete removal of her breast.
In addition to her serious medical condition which hinders her from working, her husband Saleem suffers from cartilage damages in six of his spinal vertebrates deeming him also unfit to work. As a result, the family was left with very little or no income, equally overwhelmed by the urgency of Nidhal’s medical condition.
As such, the Centre proceeded to make all necessary arrangements in preparation for the surgery and designated doctors to follow up her condition. Coordinators from the Centre were also asked to visit Nidhal frequently to offer moral and psychological support. Upon their last visit, the coordinators informed the family of their selection to the poultry keeping program.
The news brightened up an otherwise bleak reality, one that this family was made to endure as a result of disease, hunger, devastating wars, and extreme poverty. They were relieved to know that all technical and medical assistance pertaining to the poultry keeping business will be entirely taken care of for the first six months to allow for the business to flourish. Their two youngest daughters, 7 and 11 year-old Shrooq and Amal, were certainly delighted at the thought of playing with the birds and caring for them.
According to Saleem, the business will set out to be a source of nutrition for the family. The unconsumed surplus, such as eggs, will be sold to secure a steady flow of income. This in turn will allow the family to purchase lacking necessities, contribute towards Nidhal’s medical treatment, and restore their war-damaged home.
The story of the Mobaeed family might be laden with sorrow and hardships but it also paints a bittersweet picture of hope and resilience amidst poverty, war and disease.
INSPIRED BY LIFE, THE GOOD AND THE BAD: THE AL-SAMEERE FAMILY
It is difficult to imagine how life can possibly be a source of inspiration for those who are besieged by so much misery–when poverty is aggravated by disease, when disease is exacerbated by hunger, and hunger by devastating wars. This is the story of Fayaad Al-Sameere, a man who despite life’s every attempt at breaking him, remains high-spirited, hopeful, and determined, undeterred by poverty, hunger, or disease.
Fayaad lives in his modest home in the outskirts of Gaza, along the border, with his wife, six children and one grandchild. Fayaad was introduced to the members of our team when he came in one day declaring that he is “not here to beg or ask for money”. Fayaad came in that day asking that his elder son, Hussein, be treated for a malignant case of cancer as the family have lost all source of income and were unable to proceed with treatment.
Twenty-year old Hussein was forced to discontinue his education due to his illness where he suffered from untreated tumours in the neck. Fayaad, unable to help his son due to his dire financial situation, turned to the Centre for support, and our team duly obliged.
It is important to note that Fayaad, this vigorous 40-year old man, full of life and hope is himself a victim of cancer. His tumours extend from the neck to his chest, and he has undergone seven different surgeries. Despite his passion and love for life, though, Fayaad has grown weary, especially after he was banned from travelling to complete treatment. The reason is the overwhelmingly high expenses that according to the authorities suffice to treat fifty patients. As such, Fayaad’s treatment came to a sudden halt leaving him with one wish, to live in peace.
Peace however, was not granted to the Al-Sameere family. A plot of agricultural land along the borders of Gaza, once a source of income for the family, is now forbidden territory. Every morning through a pair of binoculars, Fayaad gazes at his land on the horizon. Each day he hopes that they would return to harvest the land and restore the damage caused by the war, whose bulldozers destroyed decade-old Almond trees, a war that left numerous landowners and their families deprived and landless.
Their home was not made an exception. During the December war, the family had to flee their house in the outskirts of Gaza in search of a safer place in the centre of the city. Despite their already overwhelming expenses they had no choice but to pay rent for their safe haven. Incessant bombing did not spare their house, and it too suffered severe physical damages.
It is clear why Fayaad’s family were most suitable for the poultry keeping project. They have suffered the malaise of war, poverty, hunger and disease all together, and though they do receive aid on a quarterly basis, it is insufficient.
Upon our team’s visit to Fayaad’s home, they noticed that a small piece of land adjacent to the house was already cleared out in anticipation of the flock of birds. In Fayaad’s words, the business represents a lifeline for the family and an opportunity to once again lead a self-sufficient and dignified life.
This source of income will go towards Hussein’s treatment, food, clothes, an oven and other necessary missing furniture. In addition he aspires to expand the business in the near future to include cattle which would generate more income for the family.
Fayaad’s steadfastness and optimistic outlook, is not merely admirable but inspirational. When everything else seems to fall apart, his love and passion for life remains undisputed.
A DOOR-LESS HOME: THE QUEEDER FAMILY
As the title suggests this is the story of a family too poor to even afford a door to conceal their modest home. There lives Mariam Queeder 70-years of age, a widow and mother to three children and seven step children most of them suffering from mental disorders, a condition that has become all too common in Gaza. Mariam’s daily strife for food and income is heart-wrenching, mainly relying on the kindness of a few charitable individuals.
Maysoon, the youngest and only child with a high school diploma, bears the brunt of this everyday battle. The responsibilities are cumbersome and the pressure of being the only high school graduate means that she is possibly the only family member with a slightly better chance of employment. Her siblings see in her a leader, indeed she is the family’s sole caretaker.
Unfortunately, her daily struggle to secure some form of sustenance for her siblings is undermined by the lack of income, and she like the rest of her family and indeed the majority of people in Gaza, is left without any form of employment. In her words, sleep is impossible when the mind is constantly buzzing with images of her hungry mother and siblings. One thing is for sure, hunger in Gaza is a pandemic spreading wilder than forest fire.
Maysoon was elated to hear the news about the poultry keeping business yet similarly perplexed, debating where to keep the birds and instantly worrying about feeding them. She was reassured that all technical and medical assistance will be at their disposal in addition to the chicken feed which will be provided for six consecutive months at the beginning of the project.
The poultry business instilled a sense of rejuvenated hope for the Queeder family, who now have the opportunity to be self-sufficient and finally generate the much needed income that will safeguard them from hunger and disease and ensure their overall-wellbeing.
This source of income will contribute towards the family’s medical expenses, food, and clothing and allow them to purchase basic commodities they were previously deprived from.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Behind images of war and poverty rests a reality unfathomable only by immediate experience. Even flamboyant words and images become superfluous at times, desensitizing many, if not most outside observers. With the end of each article and news briefing, most will return to the comfort of their mundane life, perhaps with a momentary sigh of relief, perhaps in an ephemeral state of despair. Eventually the majority of us tend to forget almost instantaneously.
Human Concern International’s firm belief that no innocent child, woman, or man should be the forgotten victims of such extreme poverty and devastation motivates us to pursue the most challenging yet most rewarding of tasks. HCI’s involvement in Gaza might not reach out to the whole of Gaza, but it aims to offer sustainable developmental solutions to as many families in need as is possible. We aspire to continue and expand our initiatives in hope that the good that is reaped will multiply and tip over the injustice of this status-quo.