The images of Gaza you see on the news are only half of the story. Images of destruction, reconstruction, poverty and conflict do not do justice to the lives that people lead in the densely populated and besieged Gaza Strip.
Despite the hospitality of the people, there is an air of insecurity. Gaza feels full and it feels under pressure, but it is still bustling and still beautiful. Part of that beauty comes from the children you see everywhere. Gaza has a very young demographic, with over half the population being under the age of fifteen.
Having visited Gaza, the children stand out in my memory. Visiting the homes of our beneficiaries you get to see the impact of the siege and the violence on children. They suffer from poor health, trauma, malnutrition, and watch their parents struggle and worry.
Interpal works to support Palestinian children and youth and ensure that despite the extraordinary situation they live under, they can have some stability and happiness.
Many children in Gaza are born into the cycle of poverty and struggle to break it. We ensure that orphans, the most financially destitute and disabled children are all targeted for support. Our child sponsorship programme provides a lifeline for families and ensures a child has some of their basic needs covered.
Eight year old Shahd from Khan-Younis was a beautiful little girl I met whilst she was receiving her sponsorship allowance. She was born without the use of her legs and told me “I like to eat bananas!” Her father explained the struggles the family face due to the extra expenses and time her condition requires, but with the sponsorship they can afford essential medicines and supplies and give her a better quality of life.
Our food aid programmes ensure families can purchase food through our vouchers and can provide essential nutrition for their children. Health is a key concern in Gaza, with many families suffering from chronic health issues and being unable to afford treatment or find medicines during the siege.
For children, this has a devastating effect and they are also affected by the violence caused by the occupation. Interpal runs the Baby Milk Project, which provides essential specialised formula for infants with a rare condition that leaves them unable to absorb nutrients from regular or breast milk. The formula costs £50 per container and is well beyond the means of the families who need it. Without it, the children can suffer serious health complications and even death.
I met Jihad and Ahmed, two brothers who needed the formula and had very specific dietary requirements. Their father explained he has spent his life savings on the milk since they were born, and during the 2008/2009 conflict he was concerned his sons would starve to death because they could not get the right food for them.
The children were excited to see their milk containers and promptly took them and hugged them before running around the room excitedly. It was heartening to see the relief on the faces of their parents.
Our education programmes provide school uniforms and kits to the most disadvantaged children. The objective is to ensure they are prepared and motivated for school and do not feel their poverty is a stumbling block.
Suhad, aged 18, was a beneficiary of our school uniforms project and she stated:
“I felt proud when I wore my uniform, I didn’t feel poor.”
Suhad’s situation goes further than being unable to afford a uniform. Her family live in barely adequate accommodation, her father has struggled to find work since he was stopped from working in Israel and her older sister has been unable to attend university because the family cannot afford her fees.
For this reason, Interpal has also supported university students with their tuition fees to ensure that they are able to complete their education, gain skills and be ready for the job market.
In Gaza, the crippling economic situation has led to one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. This has impacted on the ability of breadwinners to provide for their families, as well as on graduates attaining jobs.
Interpal not only provides humanitarian assistance but also works towards sustainable development and support. All our programmes create jobs in Gaza, we use local resources and producers and we are also beginning a capacity building project aimed at finding new graduates employment.
We also support the local organisations working with Palestinian children and youth in fields of recreation, trauma support and youth work. The need for assistance and support exists across all our areas of operation and we respond in the best way for the children of Palestine.
Watching young children run through the streets and smile sweetly for your camera, when moments before you heard of how they were injured in missile strikes or lost family members is a disconcerting experience. You realise that it is not only an obligation to support them but it is a pleasure because they teach you something about resilience and strength.
Summ Khan is the Projects Officer at Interpal and works with field offices and partners on the project cycle and gathering information from the field