I Am Determined to Stay Strong for the Children of Gaza

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children's Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. The below piece reflects the opinions of the staff member quoted, reflecting his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza. Save the Children is currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. As a global organization, Save the Children is equally concerned about the well-being of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports an end to the violence against both peoples.,

My heart sank when the 72 hour ceasefire ended after just 90 minutes last Friday. It plumbed new depths when a missile struck outside another school on Sunday killing at least ten people.

I am determined to stay strong for the children of Gaza, however I admit that hope for the future fades with every bomb and rocket strike.

The long sleepless nights I’ve spent listening to buildings destroyed by missiles and shells have been terrifying, but I am equally worried about the future of Gaza when the fighting stops.

Gaza – where before this conflict 80 percent of the population relied on foreign aid – is in ruin. Every attack pushes its people deeper into a life of poverty and loss.

Israel has been attacked too, but its missile defense system has thwarted nearly every rocket sent its way.

This week marks one month since the first missiles were launched, and more than two weeks since the ground offensive began. The death toll stands at more than 1,800, including over 1,000 civilians and 350 children.

How many more days the fighting will last, nobody knows.

Before the conflict Gaza was stymied by the blockade – its fishing zone had been progressively reduced from 20 miles to three miles over the past 20 years, borders were closed meaning building materials could not enter making construction impossible, and imports and exports have been severely restricted.

Recent air strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and the water network mean families are facing a complete collapse of essential services, as electricity and water supplies run out.

Health facilities are also badly affected, with some hospitals warning they only have enough fuel to run electricity generators for another four to five days.

This could leave nearly one million children trapped in a war zone without access to electricity, water or medical services.  Gaza_1

Residents are receiving electricity for a maximum of two hours a day, if at all. I haven’t had electricity for five days now. No water supplies are being delivered and sewage pumps are not working, meaning raw sewage is being pumped onto the streets, raising serious concerns about outbreaks of disease in overcrowded shelters.

When the fighting stops work will begin rebuilding a shattered city. But where do you start?

There are still badly damaged buildings awaiting repair from the 2012 military offensive, and homes destroyed during the 2009 conflict that are yet to be rebuilt.

Gaza was still in recovery mode when this round of fighting erupted.

The job for aid agencies will be massive, arguably without compare. For Save the Children it will range from rehabilitating damaged kindergartens and training teachers in psychosocial support for students to helping patch up hospitals, repairing key infrastructure and child protection services.

And all this before attempting to address the poverty that plagued Gaza before the conflict. Creating employment, livelihoods and civil society. Making Gaza sustainable.

None of this will be possible while the blockade stands – ending it must be part of the solution.

For many, however, life in Gaza will never return to normal. Their homes have been destroyed, livelihoods expunged and their friends and family members killed. How do you come back from that?

What I do know is that the international community must strenuously push for a new ceasefire and find a way to get all parties to uphold it.

At the very least the living must have the chance to bury the dead and see what’s left of their homes. Meanwhile aid agencies must be able to safely help the sick and injured as well as get essential services up and running.

After that, we need a lasting peace agreement including an end to the blockade so Gaza can begin to rebuild.

This is the third conflict between Gaza and Israel I have lived through, as I wrote in the Herald Sun last week, and it’s by far the worst. In Gaza there has been too much loss of life, and also on the Israeli side. It must end, it has to end now.

In the past 30 days I have left my apartment five times – twice during the two failed ceasefires to help with aid distributions with Save the Children and three times to get food for my family.

I live in an apartment with my wife and mother, but some nights we had up to 18 people taking shelter including five children.

We sleep in the corridors where the building is strongest and jump at the slightest of sounds. The other day my wife put a bottle of water down loudly and I ducked for cover, thinking it was another air strike.

Another time we heard a loud whistling noise and ran to the corridor, only to realize it was a car with a high-pitched engine going past.

I have feared for my life too many times.

Let the bloodshed and fighting stop on both sides so we can at least begin the task of rebuilding Gaza.

Learn more about Save the Children's life-saving work on the Gaza/Israel conflict. 

Gaza/Israel: Where Evacuation is No Game

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks.

Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time is completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

I write this at 2am from the confines of my apartment with my family. We are all awake and have been since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives. 

Gaza-blog

The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

I have not left our apartment in days apart from hurried trips to get more food, I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Gaza is a city full of apartment buildings, we have power for only three hours a day and without electricity there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites, and many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive in 2012 took place in the winter, and back then we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

Save the Children is aiming to distribute 2500 hygiene kits and 2500 baby kits in the coming days, and will also open child friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These provide children vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families on both sides of the conflict, but ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families on both sides.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end. Donate to Save the Children’s Gaza Children in Crisis Fund.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children, as a global organisation, is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.

Where bombs fall as regularly as rain

Anonymous_blog

Osama Damo

Emergency Response Team

Gaza

July 2014

 

It starts in earnest after the sun sets. I’m not sure why. It is Ramadan at the moment, and here in Gaza we are fasting 16 hours a day. Our only moment of joy is breaking our fast together at sunset. But not now. With darkness comes death these days.

 

Gaza_skaddhusFrom my home I can hear the sounds of bombs falling in Gaza from Israel and sometimes rockets being launched here in Gaza toward Israel. Gaza is so tiny, the buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

 

We joke darkly amongst ourselves. The last offensive (in 2012) took place in the winter, and we told our children that it was lightning strikes, thunder. Those noises are not to be feared. But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

 

When we realised how serious the situation was becoming, we became glued to the TV for news. We performed our routine check – are our friends ok? Our family? You do this check so regularly. We check our fridge – how much food do we have? How much water?

 

We have a phrase in Arabic, literally translated it means ‘we have not even had the chance to breathe yet’ – since the last conflict in 2012. It seems we have not even had the chance to adjust ourselves, to convince our children they are safe, before they are not safe anymore.

 

The silliest things go round in my mind. I am an avid football fan, and was so enjoying the World Cup. Now I hate it. Only when it is over will the rest of the world perhaps be interested in what is unfolding in our little corner of the world.

 

And the darker, more morbid thoughts. What will our children grow up to be, these young children, of six years old, who have now known three of these offensives/military operations conflicts? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain. How will they ever view peace? On both sides… for some children this is normal now, they barely flinch. I honestly don’t know what is worse.

 

The streets are eerily quiet, the honking of horns has subsided. The only noise now is the explosions around us, and the occasional scream mixed with windows glass smashing. The air itself is like war – thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosive.

 

We have enough food here for a few days, maybe a week if we are careful. Once the fuel runs out, there will be no water either. I worry about this. Hospitals are reportedly running out of equipment and some supplies.

 

The last time this happened, Save the Children launched a response in Gaza. We delivered urgently-needed medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, distributed food and plastic sheeting to families whose homes had been severely damaged, and set up a network of special centres with expert staff to counsel children and help them recover from their experiences.

This time…I worry that we may need to do same again. The same children will need the same kind of care. The same hospitals, the same homes. And in another two years, and another? When does it end?

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world– wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children as a global organization is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.  

 

Osama Damo is part of the Save the Children team on the ground in Gaza, and this blog represents his perceptions from living and working there.

Gaza’s Miracle Tomatoes

photo 1Crossing through the Israel’s Erez Crossing checkpoint and seeing the bleak landscape as you pass through the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints inside Gaza, it’s hard to imagine anything growing at all—let alone a flourishing garden. As we walked down the narrow pathway enclosed in wire mesh in the “no man’s land” of the Access Restricted Area, all we saw were donkeys pulling carts filled with rubble and surrounded by men and boys along harsh, rocky earth.  The boys and men salvage concrete, wire and metal from bombed out factories.  Others herd sheep and camels through dusty barren patches with little vegetation in sight. And it goes on like this for miles from the wall separating Gaza and Israel.  But just 20 minutes away, a farmer and his extended family met us on the dirt path and took us to see something entirely—and amazingly—different.

 

Outside a lush green field of healthy looking beans, spinach, and other vegetables and inside a simple greenhouse, he proudly pointed to row after row of beautiful red tomatoes literally falling off their vines.  This is the result of a recently-concluded project by Save the Children and other partners and funded by USAID, which helped farmers in Gaza feed their families and make a living.  The project provided help through improvement of water access and irrigation, as well as through technical training and provision of materials like plastic greenhouse sheeting.  The grandfather we visited had clearly benefited and was now running his small farm with much higher productivity and vastly increased ability to not only feed his family with his own vegetables but to take his crops to market.  There, he could sell it for needed income for additional food, school supplies for his children, and improved shelter for his large extended family, including several of his sons and their wives and children. The miracle tomatoes and beans and spinach were truly supporting them all.

IMG_2306

As we drove through the streets of Gaza and heard from residents about the impact of border crossing restrictions on children there—the rising rates of malnutrition and resulting stunting, the lack of basic medicines and care when children became sick, and the severe circumstances disabled children were in—I kept a hopeful thought in my head: those bursting red tomatoes we tasted on our visit.

 

They give me hope that children inside Gaza might see better days ahead, with good food to eat so they can thrive and grow like the magical garden that has been able to flourish the middle of dust and dirt.