Saed Al Atar is a young farmer who wants to break new ground in the agricultural business he inherited from his father. He dreams of growing unique plants like yellow cacti in the garden he lovingly cultivates.

However, water is scarce in Saed’s village of Beit Lahia, northern Gaza. This makes maintaining a garden tedious and difficult. “Water is the necessity of living things around us,” he said. “Lack of water makes my plants wither and die.”

Gaza water doesn’t flow all the time and when it does, it’s for short and unpredictable bursts of time. “I used to put the sink plug under my pillow,” said Saed. “Once I heard the sounds in the pipes, I’d jump out of bed in the middle of the night to plug it in, so I could fill my water tanks. But there were times when we only had water for half an hour after three or four days without a drop.” Because of this unreliable schedule, he’d save water for household cleaning, personal hygiene and cooking.

Saed and his niece in his garden that flourishes despite low Gaza water supply.

Saed and his niece, Farah, in his lush garden.

He recalls the worst times, when his garden was gloomy and dry. “It was heartbreaking to see piles of dry bushes around my house. The plants were dying. They were like my children. I tended to the small buds until they fully grew,” he said.

The water shortage made Saed’s plant business falter and he fell on hard times financially. He also had to pay high tuition fees for the agronomy classes he takes at a local university. “I had to fill my tank with purchased water twice a week,” he said. “I paid 30 NIS (about $8) each time.”

New Gaza Water Well Pumps Life into Beit Lahia

Today Saed stands in the middle of his green garden where olive, rose and papaya trees give shade.

Recently Saed noticed a difference in the quality and quantity of water due to the rehabilitation of an old well in town. This made him learn to value water and the importance of water conservation. That’s why he plants succulents, which consume less water and have long-lasting greenery.

Cacti grow despite low Gaza water supply.

Saed’s garden has olive, rose and papaya trees, but succulents like cacti grow the best with scarce water.

Gaza Water Wells Need Upgrading and Repairs

Saed gets water from a well that was built in 1974, which makes it one of the oldest of four in Beit Lahia. The well is a lifeline in providing water to 15,000 residents, but it hadn’t received any maintenance until now.

ANERA partnered with Islamic Relief USA to rehabilitate and maintain the well, nearly doubling its production capacity. It used to produce 50,000 liters (13,000 gallons) of water per hour, and now over 90,000 liters (24,000 gallons) can flow per hour. Rehabilitation involved the replacement of old mechanical fittings and an overall restructuring of the build of the well. The old pump, which broke down frequently, was also replaced.

Saed holds his cactus, which grows well despite low Gaza water supply.

Saed showed off the yellow cactus he grew. He enjoys growing unique plants with the agricultural business he inherited from his father.

There is a growing need for this well’s water as it’s the central provider of water to other reservoirs in the community. The upgrading also included the installation of a chloride monitor unit to keep the water chloride rate in line with World Health Organization standards.  

“The new well brings the blessing of more water that is better quality,” said Saed. One day, he dreams of having a nursery and a greenhouse where he can grow an even more abundant garden through irrigation from the upgraded well.

Rabab Al Sabaa, a 29-year-old mother of five, fled the war in Syria more than four years ago with her children, a disabled sister-in-law, and an elderly mother-in-law. They settled in nearby Akkar, Lebanon, where Rabab works in agriculture to support her family. 

“Without the aid we receive occasionally, I couldn’t support the entire family by myself,” she said. “I ask neighbors to lend me money sometimes so I can buy some basic things for the kids.” The average daily income for Syrian refugees in Akkar is less than $13, and women often make even lower wages.

Poverty Prevents Syrian Refugees from Practicing Good Hygiene

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UNHCR study on hygiene practices among Syrian refugees residing in Akkar revealed that items like soap are too expensive for many families. Some 13 percent of Syrian refugees in Akkar reported washing hands with water only.

To help Syrian refugees cope, ANERA delivered Days for Girls fully-washable feminine hygiene kits with help from Direct Relief. ANERA added to the kits bars of soap, shampoo and moisturizers donated by Johnson & Johnson. Rabab picked up the kits for her family from the Al Inmaa Refugee Center near her home.

ANERA delivers hygiene kits to help Syrian refugees cope with poverty.

Nasim Satouf, 16, waits in line to receive her Days for Girls kit.

“The women appreciated the good quality of the hygiene items we delivered,” said Zayat. “Especially since they are suitable for the needs of the whole family.”

Learning How to Keep Families Clean and Healthy

The delivery was preceded by an awareness session on healthy hygiene practices and proper use of items the kits contain. In the center, ANERA also distributed illustrated flyers with tips on health and hygiene.

Hygiene awareness sessions help Syrian refugees use their new kits.

Awareness sessions taught women at Al Inmaa Refugee Center how to practice good hygiene using the items in their donated kits.

“I am looking forward to trying the washable [menstrual] pads,” said 16-year-old Nassim Satouf. “They will spare us the cost of buying disposable ones, and they are healthier too.”

Al Inmaa Refugee Center is a tented settlement in Akkar housing 350 Syrian families. It was established in 2014 in the village of Rihaniye. Most families in the center fled from southern Syria, and a considerable number have relocated from the turbulent Arsal region to the relatively safer Akkar region.

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The health benefits of sweet potatoes are well known around the globe. But the healthy and delicious snack has even more value for some families in Palestine because sweet potato farming in Gaza is especially profitable for local farmers.

Atta Zoerob is a sweet potato farmer from Rafah in southern Gaza. He was born into a family with a deep love of agriculture who have farmed in Gaza for decades. “It’s not something I chose, it comes naturally since childhood,” said Atta. “All of my family appreciates nature.”

Farming can be a struggle, said Atta, due to Gaza’s bleak economy and the soaring prices of seeds and equipment. “The closure of Gaza’s borders means we have very little chance of exporting our produce,” he explains. “We can only sell it in the local market.” War has also taken a toll on the Gaza agriculture industry. “When my land was destroyed in the 2014 war, I had to quit what I was passionate about,” he said.

Through a land restoration project, ANERA has helped 399 farming families and bring life to 214 acres of land that had been abandoned or laid fallow for years. The project also provides farmers with agricultural tools, installation of a drip irrigation system as well as training on best practices in farming.

Sweet potato farming in Gaza generates income for farming families.

Sweet potatoes grow abundantly in Gaza’s soil.

The soil in Gaza is well-suited to growing sweet potatoes, but farmers hesitate to grow the crop because of the risks due to high costs. “The seedlings are expensive and the compost is as well,” said Atta. “They also need daily weeding and irrigation every other day.”

ANERA provided some compost for farmers to get started and implemented training and awareness sessions with the participating farmers. Then, ANERA agronomists and local farmers formed a plan to harvest the crops at a time of year when they typically run short in local markets, increasing profitability. “At harvest time, we reap the benefits of hard work,” said Atta. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

Sweet Potatoes Make Healthy Meals

Aysha El Shaer wakes up early in the morning on her farm near Rafah. She does her daily household chores, dresses her kids and sends them to school on a tuktuk. She feeds her chickens and sheep, and then tends to her farm. “I enjoy spending my day there among my crops,” she said.

At noon, she returns to feed leftovers to her sheep and and then picks fresh potatoes to prepare an after-school meal for her children. “The first thing the kids do when they return from school is eat the baked sweet potatoes. I keep the leftovers to feed my sheep in the backyard,” she said.

Before sunset, the family gathers at the farm and irrigates the crops. Aysha’s large family − she lives with her six sons and their children − helps look after the farm.

Aysha cooks sweet potatoes for her family in Gaza.

Aysha cooks sweet potato treats for her six grandsons and their families. The leftovers serve as fodder for her sheep.

Under the shadow of a shed, the family huddled around Aysha. “They call me the manager and bookkeeper,” she smiled. “We cultivated 10 tons of sweet potatoes and made almost $6,700 to cover our needs for the coming year. We’re going to get school uniforms, textbooks and new seeds for the next season.” She also has her own recipe for sweet potato pie. “The kids deserve a nice sweet treat.”

After this success, Aysha is excited to experiment with new crops. Next up, she’s decided to plant onions for the winter harvest.  

When a group of three Idhna villagers entered Dr. Jibreel’s humble office at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, they exchanged salaams and chatted like old friends. With a population of about 20,000, Idhna lies in the governorate of Hebron in the southern West Bank. Its residents usually know their neighbors and all their personal problems. One of those problems is the high rate of skin infections due to polluted water.

In this town, residents lack regular access to clean water. Water flows to Idhna only once a month, so people have to store water and regulate its usage. Waste dumped by nearby settlers often contaminates the little water Idhna gets, and it’s stored in unhygienic tanks and wells. The contaminated water, together with summer heat and humidity,  inevitably leads to a multitude of skin infections. It’s futile to even practice good hygiene when the water isn’t clean.

“Because of the weather and the water situation in Idhna,” says Dr. Jibreel, “we see about 7 to 10 cases of different types of skin infections in the summer.”

Donated medicine combats infections

A vital AmeriCares donation, however, has brought the people of Idhna the medicine they need. ANERA delivered Nystatin, a topical powder used to treat skin infections, through the medical and relief program. The Idhna PRCS received 36 bottles.

Sumaya Dheeb, 60, uses Nystatin for breast fungus, but her three sons use it to treat their athlete’s foot. “They could not come here because they couldn’t miss work. So I am here to speak for them,” she said as she smiled. “My sons have degrees from universities. One studied anesthesiology, the other accounting, and the third languages and translation, but they did not find jobs in their fields and ended up in construction.”

Sumaya is a recipient of medical aid in Palestine.

Sumaya and her three sons use Nyastin to treat fungal infections that can hinder work and everyday life.

“It is difficult here. If we don’t treat our skin infections then it will affect our livelihood,” said Ismail, another patient. Most men work in construction because of the few employment opportunities in Idhna. If a worker has athlete’s foot and it’s not properly treated, he might feel great discomfort and pain due to friction between the toes. But he cannot miss a day’s worth of wages because of pain or discomfort.

“This is why this medicine is very important to us workers,” added Walid. “Our job requires us to stand on our feet most of the time. If we can’t do our jobs and sustain a living, then we’ll have a financial crisis in our families.”

Supporting families with medical aid in Palestine

Ismail and Walid are distant relatives sharing the family name of Atumaizeh, one of the largest families in Idhna. Both are in their forties and are construction workers. They are also fathers of young and growing families. Their children are their motivation to continue working hard, and Nystatin helps them provide for their loved ones.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that we are a struggling community,” said Walid. “Which is why we are very thankful to ANERA and the donors. It’s also a very effective medicine! You should know that we are grateful for everything you do.”

It’s no surprise that Idhna means ‘firm’ and ‘strong’ – it must be named after its people who remain strong against today’s difficulties. Despite all the obstacles, their smiles and hard work are proof of their hope and perseverance.

This delivery of vital medicines was made possible with funding from Zakat Foundation.

Medical aid in Palestine delivered through AmeriCares shipment.

A donation from AmeriCares and delivered by ANERA with help from Zakat Foundation addresses the high rate of skin infections in Idhna.

In Lebanon, one in every three people is a refugee. The effects of the refugee crisis have been well-documented in urban centers like Beirut. But what about the effects on rural areas, where services are few and far between?

It’s estimated that 86% of Syrian refugees reside in rural areas, most notably in the Bekaa Valley region of eastern Lebanon. In 2015 there were about 410,000 Syrians in Bekaa – almost equal to the number of Lebanese who already lived there.

The population boom in Bekaa put unprecedented pressure on services and infrastructure. Because of this strain, municipalities in the region are incapable of providing residents access to basic services like health care.

For this reason, refugees in Bekaa often use local dispensaries for health care. Like many Lebanese citizens, refugees access health care services out-of-pocket. They spend roughly 18% of their income on health care.

In the village of Kamed Allouz, many residents from Syrian and host communities go to the Mohammad Ali Waked Dispensary.

“The fees are minimal and medicines are provided free of charge,” explained Khaled Othman, the clinic manager. Othman said that when it comes to dental health care, lab tests, x-rays, and medicine, the rates are 40-50% lower than in private clinics. However, he added, “the shortage of medicine is the biggest challenge we face.”


Khaled Othman, executive manager of the Mohammad Ali Waked Dispensary, says that the biggest problem faced is a shortage of medicine.

Recovery from Surgery within Reach

“My family always comes here for health care,” said Mohammad Hammoud, a local from Kamed Allouz. He makes little income at a small village shop and his wife doesn’t work. So finding affordable health care for his family of four has been a challenge. He added, “the services here are of excellent quality and the doctors are experienced.”

Mohammad comes to the dispensary for Naproxen tablets, which was prescribed to his teenage son after surgery left him with critical bleeding. Naproxen is a painkiller used for post-surgical recovery. However, underprivileged patients often choose to forego painkillers, said ANERA pharmacist Lina Atat. “They find it a burden to purchase them among a long list of other medicines.” 

Health Care Assistance from a Coalition of Partners

The dispensary in Kamed Allouz serves about 600 patients each month. Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians from Kamed Allouz and neighboring villages go to the clinic to for their health care needs.

 ANERA delivers assistance to the clinic through its longtime in-kind partner, the YMCA. A donation from International Health Partners, with funds from the Zakat Foundation, allowed ANERA to deliver the painkiller and other vital medicines. Donations like these let refugees access health care in the face of poverty.