My Trip to Gaza
My fascination with Gaza has grown within me since my early childhood years. Living in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, I grew up listening to my late grandfather and his circle of friends. They would congregate at his shop and reminisce about their travels to Gaza, Haifa and Akka as laborers and merchants. Much was said about the rich history of these cities known for their cultural, scientific, and economic significance in the first half of the twentieth century, not to mention their ancient history going back thousands of years.
But a series of calamities befell Gaza, beginning with the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, then the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and most recently four devastating wars in the span of 14 years. This small area is also besieged by Israel and isolated from the rest of the world. These factors have crippled the economy in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Gaza also confronts a deteriorating environment that affects the health and psychological well-being of the population. Electricity shortages are a regular part of life due to limited fuel and inadequate and conflict-damaged infrastructure. In addition, much of the underground water aquifer in Gaza is contaminated by waste and sea water leaking into it and rendering tap water unsafe for drinking. The COVID pandemic in the past two years has further strained the local health services and economic conditions of the territory.
I’ve been blessed to be able to support Anera for over thirty years. Most recently I was honored to be invited to join the board of directors which I graciously accepted, primarily to witness firsthand how Anera manages its funds, programs, and donors’ contributions but also to see how I can be more effective in my support to Anera.
During my visit to the homeland this past summer, I asked if Anera could apply for my permit to go to Gaza as a board member to visit a few of Anera’s projects and meet some beneficiaries. I was granted the Israeli permit to visit Gaza in mid-November after several weeks of anxiously waiting for it, thanks to help from Anera’s staff in Jerusalem.
Overjoyed with the opportunity to see Gaza for the first time, I was filled with emotions but equally elated to go. For the past 15 years we’ve all watched on TV the horrific bombardments across this small enclave and the devastating toll it’s taken on the inhabitants and infrastructure. Naturally I tried to adjust my expectations to what was forthcoming, hoping to lessen the shock of what I was about to see.
Seeing Firsthand the Dire Conditions in Gaza
I was overwhelmed with emotions the minute I stepped foot into Gaza. It wasn’t too long before I witnessed the utter misery and living conditions of border towns and refugee camps and beyond. Severe damage to the main roads crisscrossing Gaza, particularly from the most recent bombardment in May, was still fresh. Local authorities nevertheless managed to fix what they could to keep the roads open. The electric grid was damaged or totally dysfunctional. Open sewers in multiple refugee camps and towns were also a stark reminder of the unhealthy environment that most Gazans live with.
Most shocking to see was the overcrowding of most towns and refugee camps including Gaza City. Venturing into some of these neighborhoods and into the residential areas was shocking for the sheer scale of overcrowding, chaotic transportation, electric outages, and deteriorating apartment buildings.
I visited some of those apartments to get a firsthand look at the living conditions of their residents. The situation inside these apartments was even more dire. Members of these families, including parents and often their elderly, all live in one- or two-bedrooms apartments which lack basic sanitary and hygiene standards, and privacy from adjacent apartments.
In spite of these depressing and often unbearable and inhumane living conditions, I was touched by the spirit of optimism Gazans had for a better future for their kids and families. Their tenacity to preserve, adapt and rebuild was truly remarkable to see and hear.
Upon arriving at Anera office in Gaza City, I had the pleasure of meeting and engaging with many staff members. They were extremely hospitable and supportive throughout my three-day visit.
Visiting Anera Projects in Gaza
Our itinerary included visits to multiple Anera projects. These projects spanned all sectors of Anera’s work in Gaza, including humanitarian relief, education, health, agriculture, water, emergency, women empowerment, and community support to the most disadvantaged. I visited a recently constructed and fully operational kindergarten that provides a high-quality education and child development in a safe and healthy environment by experienced and caring staff.
Some of the kindergartens also provide a nutritious daily meal prepared by a community-based women’s cooperative. These women make the meals at the cooperative, which has a fully equipped kitchen with the latest cookware and appliances. There they cook and package the meals in a sanitary environment before they are delivered to the schools. This project is an example of local cooperatives working closely with Anera to support women and their families, provide a healthy meal for the children, and support local farmers who sell their produce to the cooperative. This is truly a win-win-win project.
The next day I visited a site where Anera fully renovated and rebuilt a ground water pump station with a solar system, which now provides uninterrupted irrigation water at a nominal price to nearby farmers. I visited the Patient’s Friends Benevolent Society in Gaza City where Anera built a high-capacity reverse osmosis water filtration system that’s also powered by a newly installed solar system with back-up battery power. This project provides potable water to the entire hospital and gives free water access to thousands of nearby residents who can tap into multiple water faucets installed just outside the hospital.
On the same day I visited a sizable greenhouse that Anera helped build with the latest designs and materials to withstand the elements. This is one of many greenhouses that Anera has constructed for qualified farming families. Later that day I visited a couple of rooftop hydroponic gardens where Anera builds the greenhouse, installs the containers and provides the saplings to start the gardens. These little rooftop farms can provide food and income to support a whole family. Anera’s agronomists in both the West Bank and Gaza offices collaborate to customize this system of planting and growing vegetables on rooftops with locally available and cost-effective materials.
The Gaza Staff are the Real Heroes
I was truly impressed with all these projects and the people who are running them. However, the highlight of my visit was meeting the Anera folks behind this amazing number of projects that are executed with quality, speed, and low cost. The hard-working team at Anera’s offices in both Gaza and the West Bank are exemplary. Their selfless dedication and commitment to their work and our beneficiaries is remarkable and uplifting. They work long hours to ensure timely, cost-effective, and successful outcomes of their projects.
They are our true heroes on the frontlines working under the most difficult conditions and often with great personal risk to provide help and comfort to those most disadvantaged. We should all be grateful to them. Our donors also, I believe, should be proud and assured that their donations are being fully and effectively invested in Gaza and the other areas where Anera operates to provide the most impactful projects and services.
Finally, I would be remiss if I don’t talk about the wonderful people of Gaza whom I had the pleasure of meeting throughout this trip. I will miss their hospitality and amazing seafood and local cuisine. Gaza offers lots of historic and ancient landmarks that I also had the opportunity to visit. It offers great scenery along the beach, which I quite enjoyed. I look forward to going back in the near future and I encourage anyone who can travel to Gaza to do so as well.
With funding from Helping Hand for Relief and Development, Anera has rehabilitated 12 homes to make them more resilient against flooding and more habitable in a variety of ways.
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