Families of Al Sawarha are poor and can’t afford many of the most basic necessities, including shoes for their children.
A Tough Winter in Gaza
Life in Al Sawarha, Gaza reflects the simplicity and pride of its residents. Kids growing up in the rural community walk through green fields planted with cactuses, olive trees, and vegetables. But families of Al Sawarha are poor and can’t afford many of the most basic necessities, including shoes for their children.
The lack of proper footwear presents challenges for the 50 preschoolers who have to walk to and from the Atfal Mustaqbal Preschool each day, especially in cold, winter weather.
Five-year-old Ali Shaqoura, for one, faces a long, 30-minute walk each way. Wearing his only pair of shoes, an old pair of sandals, Ali takes a shortcut through muddy fields.
I have to think hard before I send Ali to school. He has no proper shoes and I fear for him walking in muddy or dirty streets full of rubble.
“Walking that kind of distance is really hard for a young child. Many of the children, like Ali, are poor and can’t afford to buy proper shoes,” says Om Ayman Sawarha, the preschool director. “But shoes are essential to help protect a child’s health and safety.”
Om Ayman explains that most of the preschoolers consider themselves lucky if they have second-hand shoes given to them by relatives. Some of the children walk around in torn shoes. Others have to share shoes with brothers and sisters, no matter the size. Still more have to go barefoot.
Welcome Winter Gifts for Gaza Children
In this neighborhood, like many others in Gaza, the need for shoes and other essentials is great—and greater with every passing day. The struggle of being poor during winter in Gaza is present in every aspect of life—particularly after the 2014 Gaza war that left many families with no homes or rooftops to protect themselves from harsh weather. Young children are the most vulnerable.
Ali’s mother, Randa Shaqoura, dreads sending her son to school during the winter. “I have to think hard before I send Ali to school,” she says. “He has no proper shoes and I fear for him walking in muddy or dirty streets full of rubble. Honestly, I often don’t allow him to go. My heart aches, but I have no other option.”
The mother of six has almost nothing to provide for her family. Her husband is unemployed. They live in a makeshift, gloomy house, and the bathroom has no roof.
“Our living conditions are harsh,” Randa explains. “When it gets chilly, I borrow some blankets from neighbors but I have to return them. It is a different story with shoes. Everyone I know has only one pair to keep himself warm or to share with a sibling. There are no extras to go around.”
Anera distributed boots to 50 preschools in some of the poorest areas of Gaza.
Earlier this month, Randa visited the preschool and saw the children playing and jumping around. “They were so enthusiastic and excited. It sounded like they were celebrating something. My son was among them,” she says. The TOMS winter boots had made a timely and unexpected arrival.
Randa no longer has to worry about young Ali having cold feet, getting cuts or contracting parasites. Now he walks to school in warm and durable, faux fur-lined boots.
In addition to new shoes for Ali and his classmates at Al Sawarha, Anera distributed TOMS winter boots to more than a thousand preschoolers in nine other preschools located in poor, marginalized and war-affected areas. This is the fourth distribution of TOMS Shoes that Anera has delivered to Gaza. Since 2013, Anera has also distributed TOMS shoes and boots in Lebanon refugee camps.
Naser Omara is a five-year-old preschooler at Al-Tifel Saeed preschool in Shejaiya. In the classroom, he sings and plays with his classmates. His quiet sadness is hard to detect.
Naser is the eldest of five children and lives in an area that was hard hit by the recent Gaza war. His family lives in dire poverty.
“He would come to school with a pale face. His feet were always blue and cold from exposure to the harsh weather,” says his teacher Neema Abu Hanna. “His house was partially destroyed during the war and is not adequate for living. He has never once come to school with proper winter shoes or clothing."
When Naser received his new boots, his face lit up. He gave a little hopeful smile before joining the other 250 students at the preschool celebrating their new shoes.
Neema is incredibly grateful for the impact that TOMS boots make on the lives of her students at home and at school. “Those boots are so helpful,” she says.”They are strong enough to withstand the streets of Gaza, which is saying a lot.”
She can see how much the boots lift her students’ spirits and give them hope.
“These kids may not have shoes, but their dreams are endless,” she exclaims. “No matter what, they will remember this wonderful gift as they continue to grow and thrive.”