It all began three years ago for Naela when she was pregnant with her fourth child. One day, she went in for a routine visit to check on her pregnancy and she found out that blood tests showed she had diabetes and high blood pressure. “At first, I thought maybe my high blood pressure and diabetes came about because of my pregnancies. But actually these conditions run in my family,” she said.

Her doctor told Naela that it is important for her to lose weight, eat healthily, and lower her cholesterol levels. He prescribed Pravastatin Sodium, saying it is effective in reducing the possibility of strokes and hearts attacks. “Without the medicine, she would be at very high risk. Bad cholesterol would build up and cause her coronary arteries to block up,” said her doctor.

Patients Struggle to Find Medicines Amid Chronic Shortages

One of the major angsts for Naela is finding the medicine in Gaza. For almost 10 years, the territory has had its borders blocked, leading to severe shortages in medicines and supplies. Pharmacies and other health facilities have particular problems with keeping stocks of chronic disease medicines available.

Often, when patients like Naela are lucky enough to find medicine they need, it is way beyond their limited budgets, especially to have to buy it every month. And Naela is one of the lucky few in Gaza who has a full-time job. With Gaza unemployment at around 45%, families have no income for medicines or health care.

Naela discusses how her health has improved with the pharmacists at the clinic.

Naela discusses how her health has improved with the pharmacists at the clinic.

That’s why ANERA’s deliveries of quality, donated medicine to Gaza are so critical. Through charitable clinics and hospitals, patients are able to get the medicines they need free of charge, because ANERA delivers them without cost to the medical facilities. Recently, ANERA distributed enough Pravastatin Sodium for 300 patients – patients like Naela.

“Getting this medicine has made me feel so much better, and less stressed,” says Naela. “It takes a lot to accept living with a disease, but it would break hearts forever if I couldn’t get the treatment I needed when I needed it. It gives me hope to never give up for the sake of my family and for everyone I love.”

The Pravastatin Sodium was donated by AmeriCares and local distribution and administrative costs were funded by the Zakat Foundation of America.

When West Bank farmer Abu Aysar first found out about ANERA’s wastewater treatment work, he was curious but a little unsure. He had no one to consult because the project was new to Palestine. So he decided to go to some ANERA training sessions he heard about and he made visits to other farmers in the area who are using the wastewater for irrigation to cope with the lack of available Palestinian water resources.

“When I saw that using treated water was making a real difference for other farmers, I got excited about doing it too,” said Abu Aysar. “It seemed very promising and worthwhile.”

Abu Aysar and one of his brothers, who farm together, joined the newly established farmers’ cooperative, got an irrigation system installed, and planted alfalfa – all part of ANERA’s program. Since early November, they have irrigated their 2.5 acres with over a million gallons of treated wastewater

Thanks to the new Palestinian water resource, farmers can harvest alfalfa year round!

The brothers can now harvest alfalfa every 18-22 days, year round!

After the very first alfalfa cut, Abu Aysar was convinced of the project’s profitability. Now, he says, he is optimistic about the future and determined to expand his production.

Feeding the Herd Despite Limited Palestinian Water Resources

Abu Aysar and his brother planted 2.5 acres of alfalfa in November, and saw their first harvest come in after four months of care and anticipation. Now, the brothers are able to harvest the alfalfa every 18-22 days year-round. The warmer the climate, the better the harvest and the easier it is to dry the crop and store it in bales.

Abu Aysar feeds his heard of 500 sheep in Jenin, Palestine.

Abu Aysar feeds his heard of 500 sheep with the fodder crop.

One bale of alfalfa provides two to three meals a day for 20 animals. With a herd of 500 sheep, Abu Aysar has always had to work hard to keep them well-fed. The new alfalfa crop has changed everything. Not only can he readily feed all of his sheep, but he has enough alfalfa left over to sell a lot of it to generate income.

Before taking part in ANERA’s agriculture project, Abu Aysar made about 500 NIS ($115) selling fodder once a year. With just the first harvest alfalfa, Abu Aysar’s revenue skyrocketed to 8,000 NIS (more than $2,000) – a tremendous profit for his family. Ten more harvests are expected before next winter.

Cheese is one unexpected output of this new Palestinian water resource.

The farmers make cheese with sheep’s milk from their heard.

“Abu Aysar has been a role model and motivator for many farmers benefiting from the project,” explained ANERA project coordinator Amal Blan. “The secret to Ahmad’s success is his diligence and desire to always learn more. Whatever task we have for him, he is ready. His achievements have been impressive.”

Abu Aysar says his hard work has one life-long goal: educating his seven children.

“I want them to be well-educated and successful. Nothing stands in the way of a successful person and that’s why I’m certain that the future of this land will be in good hands.”

Abu Aysar has been an inspiration for other farmers testing this new Palestinian water resource.

Abu Aysar has been an inspiration to the other farmers in the wastewater treatment co-op.

Mohammad lost partial use of his leg a few months ago when a massive stone fell on him while he worked at a construction site in Bhannine, northern Lebanon. After several surgeries and a couple of months spent laid up in bed, the 14-year-old Syrian refugee teen went back to his work at the same construction site.

“I desperately need to work. I need to help my father to feed my brothers and sisters,” says Mohammad, whose eight family members fled the devastating war in Syria two years ago. “The situation went from bad to worse in Khalidiyeh. There wasn’t enough food, and everyone was scared, so we left our home. I was having terrible nightmares,” adds the young boy.

Classes Designed for Refugee Teens in Lebanon

Luckily for Mohammad, the construction site is located near a site where ANERA provides training sessions in Arabic, English and math to Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian youth who, for a variety of reasons, have left formal schooling at an early age. More than 4,000 youths across Lebanon are enrolled in these youth education courses, funded by UNICEF.

Diana Ghazzaoui invites Syrian refugee teen to attend ANERA classes.

Diana Ghazzaoui is head of one of the partner organizations in Lebanon where ANERA implements classes for youth.

“I saw him standing at the gate, staring at students playing in the courtyard. I went to him, and he told me his sad story,” recalls Diana Khaled Ghazzaoui, head of the “Social Skills Rehabilitation” organization where the courses are held. “I immediately invited him to join our training courses, because he seemed so smart and was showing willingness to learn.”

Mohammad joined the Arabic courses at the beginning of June, and plans to take math lessons as well. “I was very happy going to school in Syria. I had friends there, but I had to leave everything behind,” whispers Mohammad. “When I grow up I want to be a doctor. I want to help the young and old by healing them and preventing them from dying.”

“When I grow up I want to be a doctor. I want to help the young and old by healing them.”

The young Syrian refugee teen didn’t quit his job. “I work till 5 pm, then I go to school. You know, life is hard here. My family just makes about 30,000 Lebanese liras ($20 USD) a day. We owe money to a lot of people and we need to pay them back, you understand. We are not thieves.”

“Mohammad is a very joyful kid. He always used to stay at home, ashamed of his situation. Things are slowly changing for him though. He’s regaining his confidence. We are very proud of what we are achieving,” says Ghazzaoui,  “We need to work against child labor in our region. School is the best place to work. Unfortunately, families need their children to work and help pay the family bills, and employers take advantage of this desperation by forcing children to work long hours in hazardous conditions for low pay and no rights.”

Syrian refugee teens take remedial education classes in Lebanon.

Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese refugee youth who have been forced out of formal schooling get back on track in ANERA’s classes.

Nothing pleases five-year-old Zayna more than spending vacations at her grandmother’s home in Gaza. As soon as she finishes preschool and goes on summer break, she asks her parents’ permission to stay there. Zayna says that her grandmother never tires of her following and observing her household chores. She enjoys watching her grandmother washing dishes, doing laundry, tasting spices, and most of all, she loves when they play together with water bubbles.

“Zayna is my joy; we spend hours playing together,” says grandmother Najah Abu Kalub.

In her kitchen, Najah pleasantly washes dishes and prepares a meal for her family. “Water is the source of life,” she says. “It’s very difficult to live in a home that lacks water for laundry and for washing.”

Water supply in Gaza connected to Najah's home

Zayna and grandmother Najah stand outside Najah’s home in the middle of Gaza City.

Due to very poor economic conditions, Najah cannot afford filling her two rooftop water tanks. Instead, she usually fills them partially at the cost 5-10 NIS – about $1-3 USD. Najah recalls a time she ran out of water for three days. “I kept the water tap turned on day and night looking patiently for a few drops of water to fill my empty tanks.”

The main causes of the water crisis in this neighborhood, located in the center of Gaza City, are the old and deteriorated water networks. The leaking pipes cause huge losses of water. The water supply in Gaza is contaminated by high levels of saline, chloride, and nitrates, which are triple the safe level that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. The increased salinization and pollution are caused by continued over-abstraction of water from the Coastal Aquifer Basin – the only source of water for 1.8 million people in Gaza.

Saleh owns a repair show in Gaza and fixes machines broken by briny Gaza water supply.

Saleh owns a repair shop in Najah’s neighborhood. He fixes many washing machines that have been destroyed by hard water.

Briny Water Supply in Gaza Destroys Pipes, Washing Machines

Walking a couple of blocks away from Najah’s home, there is a small repair shop where people bring their broken fans and washing machines on donkey carts to get them fixed. “I’ve observed that since our struggle with water began three years ago, I’ve received many broken washing machines,” said Saleh Hameed, the repair shop owner. He notes that washing machines make up a large portion of damaged items he receives per day because they are particularly susceptible to damage from saline and filthy water. Residents must pay from their limited budgets to get them working again.

People in Gaza bring broken washing machines to repair shop on donkey cart.

People bring their washing machines to Saleh’s repair shops on donkey carts.

“Availability of clean water is so limited for most Gazans,” says Saleh. “There are many times when we sleep next to our generators awaiting water. We hear, for example, that the pipelines are blocked with filth or are rusted. We fear the pipes could explode at any instant.”

With the new water connection provided by ANERA, the residents of Saleh and Najah’s neighborhood now enjoy access to safe water around the clock. “It’s extremely hot now. Having water available is highly treasured in this community,” said Saleh. It also improves health and hygiene in the neighborhood.

“People from other areas where water is scarce bring their jerry cans and jugs to fill them with water from our places,” he says. “Hunting for water is nothing less than struggling for survival.

Water supply for Gaza apartment building where Najah lives.
Zayna loves going to her grandmother's house, which was just connected to water supply in Gaza.
Zayna watches her grandmother work in the kitchen with running water supply.
Freshly washed laundry hangs outside of Najah's Gaza apartment building.
This is the repair shop that Saleh owns in Gaza City.
Boys in Gaza hang out near repair shop with new water supply in Gaza.
People from all around Gaza City come to Najah and Saleh's neighborhood to use their water supply.

This is where Najah, Zayna's grandmother, lives. The entire apartment building is enjoying the new water connection.

“It’s very difficult to live in a home that lacks water for laundry and for washing,” says Najah.

Zayna loves going to her grandmother's house, and her favorite thing to do is play with water bubbles.

She also loves watching her grandmother work in the kitchen, especially now that the water flows in regularly!

Freshly washed laundry hangs outside of Najah's apartment building.

This is the repair shop that Saleh owns. He fixes many washing machines and fans.

Smiling neighborhood boys hang out near the repair shop.

People from all around Gaza City now come to Najah and Saleh's neighborhood to use their water supply.

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With funds from Islamic Relief USA, ANERA has implemented eight water and wastewater projects across Gaza that provide access to safe water, hygiene kits, and awareness sessions. Over the course of the next year, the project will directly improve water and sanitation systems for 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza.


By Ron Coello
Ron Coello is a London based photographer. He traveled to Lebanon in November 2015 to document ANERA’s work. Here he met ANERA education field coordinator and Palestinian refugee Oyoun Shabayta. Compelled to document her story, he returned in April 2016 to Ein El Hilweh camp, where Ouyun lives. This is an excerpt from his project. 

Inside the Most Dangerous Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon

I first traveled to the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein El Hilweh in southern Lebanon shortly before the 2006 Lebanon War.

 “The majority of [the camp’s] population is Palestinian, and the eldest refugees have been here for 68 years.”

Ein El Hilweh was established in 1948 to house Palestinian refugees fleeing northern Palestine. It is based south of the port of Sidon, close to the Mediterranean Sea. In the early 1950’s, the canvas tents that once housed the refugees were replaced with concrete shelters, making the camp a more permanent home.

To some extent, Ein El Hilweh epitomizes how quickly and how slowly things can move in the Middle East. In the last four years the population of Ein El Hilweh has swelled to 120,000 because of the number of Syrian refugees entering the camp. However, the majority of the population is Palestinian, and the eldest refugees have been here for 68 years.

Ein El Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

Ein El Hilweh Palestinian camp, the most populated refugee camp in Lebanon, is prone to violence.

One day before my arrival in Lebanon in April 2016, Fatah leader General Fathi Zeidan was assassinated just outside the camp. The camp has four checkpoints manned by the Lebanese army. Access to the camp can be difficult at the most peaceful of times, but with the recent unrest in the camp and the assassination just outside of it, security was at a heightened state.

Because camera equipment is not allowed into the camp, my kit was hidden around the jeep I was travelling in. This went without any real problems – although the soldiers were curious to know why I was carrying a camera flashgun in my bag (I had forgotten to hide it) – and I was allowed in with just the words that I was “very brave” to be entering.

The purpose of my visit was to work with Oyoun Shabayta who I met in the camp at the end of 2015. Oyoun is the field education coordinator for ANERA. She is 24 and has lived in the camp her entire life, as have her parents, and since 1948, her grandparents. I was so moved by the work I saw her doing with a young Syrian boy traumatized by the death of his parents in Syria that I decided to return to find out more about her and her family.

Ouyoun Shabayta at Ein el Helweh

Ouyoun Shabayta at Ein el Helweh camp, where she was born and raised.

Oyoun’s Life as a Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon

I met Oyoun and her friend Said at the ANERA office in the camp, where we had coffee. The two of them had grown up together in Ein El Hilweh, and their families had both left the village of Hittin in northern Palestine in 1948.

Oyoun runs education programs for Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Ein el Hilweh.

Oyoun skillfully works with Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the camp to provide educational and psychosocial support.

Oyoun received her education in the camp. She wanted to study media and communications to become a reporter. However, as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, she is prohibited from working in many fields. She eventually enrolled on an applied business computer course at the national university in Lebanon. However, after three years of being unable to get any work in the corporate sector, she moved into the humanitarian sector. She initially worked with the NGO Action Against Hunger, then moved to ANERA, where she is involved in the refugee education program.

During my visit, we talked about a broad range of subjects: football – she is a Juventus fan; her dreams and ambitions; and the one subject that unites all Palestinians – the ‘right to return’. She showed me a painting by one of her pupils with a key central to the artwork. The key represents the ‘right to return’. When I was in Ramallah a few years ago, I was shown a key by a young man that had been given to him by his grandfather. It was the key to his family home that he had not seen since 1948.

Oyoun was kind enough to invite me to her family home in the Palestinian refugee camp to meet her brother and sister and their little daughter, her parents, and her paternal grandmother Mahmouda Mohammad Shabayta.

Mahmouda Mohammad Shabahta, Oyoun's Grandmother. Ein El Helweh.

Mahmouda Mohammad Shabahta, Oyoun’s Grandmother. Ein El Helweh.

A Palestinian Family History Unfolds

Her grandmother was born and raised in the northern Palestinian town of Hittin. In 1948, there were rumors that the Israeli army was moving from village to village, forcing – at gunpoint –all Palestinian civilians to leave their homeland. In May 1948, when she was eight years old, heavily armed soldiers reached Hittin. The entire village was forced to leave, and her parents were left with the promise from a British officer that they would be free to return to their house in a week.

They headed north, and after a walk of many days, reached the port of Sidon in Lebanon. They, along with the other refugees in Lebanon, were housed in a church there. After a short time, the family made their way to Tripoli in the north of the country and stayed there until 1951 when they returned to the newly developed Ein El Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, where she has been ever since.

Mahmouda holds sand from her hometown. She's been a refugee in Lebanon since 1968.

Mahmouda Mohammad Shabahta holding some pebbles from her Palestinian village of Hittin. She has been a refugee in Lebanon since 1948.

She has returned to Hittin three time since – her last trip being in 1995. Travel for all Palestinians to their homeland has since became more and more restrictive. Since the second Intifada in 2000, all such travel has been stopped. Oyoun and her generation have never been allowed to visit Palestine. Any attempt to cross the border by Palestinians is met with force. Oyoun’s own efforts to return have been unsuccessful. On her last attempt, she and her friends were fired upon.

Before I left, Oyuon’s grandmother showed me some pebbles from the lake at Hittin that she collected on her last and final visit. She, her children and grandchildren simply want to return to the place they call their home and hang onto any memento’s they can.

Before I left Ein El Hilweh, I was taken to a meeting center set up for all those in the camp who can trace there routes back to the village of Hittin. There is one like it for each village in northern Palestine. I was shown some fascinating photographs of how the village looked before before 1948. The final shot I took was of an elderly, very dignified, Palestinian sitting in front of a picture of Hittin taken in 1934. He, like Mahmouda Mohammad Shabahta, was forced to leave the village in 1948and has been as refugee in Lebanon ever since.

Palestinian refugee sitting in front of a picture of his home village of Hittin in Northern Palestine

Palestinian refugee sitting in front of a picture of his home village of Hittin in northern Palestine

PHOTOS: ©Ron Coello