In post-war Gaza, one can easily observe the aftermath: displacement and homelessness are prevalent; poverty is visible; unemployment is raging; malnutrition among children is rampant; trauma and grief are widespread; and lost livelihoods are common. For many families, everything they had worked for or achieved all their life has been destroyed.
If such a reality is difficult for adults to bear, one can only wonder about the children unfortunate enough to experience and survive what is considered to be one of the most devastating wars the region has witnessed. The children of Gaza have witnessed scenes of death, bloodshed, demolitions, and experienced the loss of family members amidst an environment of fear and confusion. Children are left with a considerable sense of insecurity, especially when their parents become helpless in easing their fears and concerns. Adding to that, children’s basic needs are not met; many of them don’t have the clothes to wear to fight the cold winters, no appropriate shoes, no hygiene supplies and no toys. This negligence is not purposely created. It is as simple as this: families in Gaza cannot afford to eat since 80% of the population is dependent on humanitarian aid agencies.
Bringing hope to Pre-school Children in Gaza is an initiative recently launched by HCI that targets children in Gaza and respond to their various needs. The project targets children attending local community-run Kindergartens and provide them with tailored relief assistance: Winter clothes and shoes tailored to each child were provided for individually selected pre-school children through comprehensive needs assessments. Food items for children such as cake, milk, biscuits, cheese and yogurt were also distributed to children in need. School stationary such as books and pencils, and hygiene items such as tooth brush, tooth paste, washing soap and kids shampoo were also distributed to war-affected children. In addition, children were allowed to express their feelings, whether it was trauma, grief, fear or insecurity, through drawing, games and entertainment activities aimed at reducing the psychological impact of the war on these children.
These activities are complemented with a rehabilitation program targeting kindergartens damaged during the war by implementing a comprehensive physical rehabilitation which would allow pre-school children to continue their education and provide them with the space to play and learn away from the destruction of wars and poverty. The Kindergartens will also be provided with much needed educational materials and toys, as well as playgrounds.
Through a comprehensive needs assessment and extensive outreach activities each child was individually selected to benefit from the project. 160 children and their families benefited from this month’s activities targeting the children attending the Beit-Hanon community Kindergarten and Beit-Jablia refugee camp community Kindergarten.
The project is implemented in partnership with HCI’s local partner in Gaza, The Aid and Hope Centre for the Care of Cancer Patients and their Families and in coordination with the Palestinian NGO, the Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls (VRWSG) as well as the Gaza-based NGO, the Palestinian Early Childhood Education. Ten local volunteers helped make this project possible.
Tales from the Children
While walking through the crowds at Biet Hanon Kindergarten, Modelalah’s sad eyes captured us. She is 5 years old and lives with her family of 5 members. Her brother was injured during the war and lost one of his legs. Her father is currently unemployed. Modelalah almost cried when we talked to her, noticing that she had already opened her coloring pencils set she received. We asked her about what does she want to draw. “I want to draw a boy and a rose”, she responded. She promised that she will share her chocolate with the rest of her brothers and sisters, and she will save some for her brother who is being treated away.
We spotted Said hiding from the camera. We approached him and asked him why and if he was afraid from the camera or the team. “I am okay but I am feeling embarrassed because of my worn-to-pieces shoes. We don’t have money to buy new one”, Said responded. We explained to Said that HCI sent him new shoes and jacket and other nice new things. “Are you sure!”, Said wondered. We helped him sit on the table and showed him the new supplies provided by HCI. “Why HCI send us gifts?” Said asked us. “HCI is sending you this supplies because you are very sweet boy and very clever at the school,” we responded. Said wished that god bless HCI. He didn’t wear new clothes for a year now. He told us he can’t buy chocolate or deserts or anything. He asked us to thank HCI and to let them know that he loves all of them.
The weather was very cold outside, yet the child Wisam Sadat was only wearing a light sweater and a sandal footwear. Wisam spent the entire cold winter wearing summer clothe. When team member Lubna Najar offered to help him wear the new shoes and winter jacket provided by HCI and the other items, he got so excited and couldn’t believe it. Wisam draw house, girl and pretty flowers. With his new shoes Wisam was walking and jumping all over the place. Before we left he told us: I LOVE YOU ALL.
Bahaa is 5 years old from a family that consist of 14 members. His father used to work as a shoe tailor before he lost his job as result to the war. Bahaa was very shy when we approached him. We asked him why he is shy. “I am afraid”, Bahaa responded. Bahaa was occupied with the new shoes he received, “I can play football now. My old shoes are not for playing football, and if I lose them my dad can’t get me a new one. My dad can’t get me chocolate too,” he concluded.
5-year old Lila lost most of her family during the conflict. “I promise to share the chocolate and the biscuits with my brothers and sisters, and I will tell them how HCI made us happy in the kindergarten,” Lila commented after receiving the items provided by HCI. “I will draw flowers and butterflies. I will clean my teeth every night. I will have nice warm shower with my shampoo. Thank you so much for making me and making my friends in the kindergarten happy and we will never forget HCI and we hope they will never forget us”. Leila is sweet girt with doll-like face. She has suffered so many losses, yet she still wants to play and draw. She also made a new friend (Bahaa) on the distribution day.
Mohanad lives with his 8-member family with no source of income. Mohanad wants to be a pilot, yet the planes he wants to fly are not “like the Israeli ones” he said. Mohanad has no other pair of pants to wear. He jumped up and down the room when he received a new pair of pants from HCI. “Mohanad is behaving like a child again,” his mother, Oum Ahed, commented.
Shahed lives with her family of 9 members in Jabalia refugee camp. Her father suffers from a chronic injury that made him mentally challenged, and her brother lost his leg during the war. As Shahed bent down and started drawing happily, her mother Om Ahmed approached us to thank HCI for the generous donation. “I wish I could have offered my daughter want she needs, but there is nothing I can do. We can’t afford anything. My husband can’t work and now my older son is injured. I really don’t know how to thank you enough,” Om Ahmed commented. Shahed’s teacher told us that almost all of Shahed’s neighbors were killed during the conflict. She often tells stories about the war and a story about wolves who comes to hurt her family while they are asleep.