Winter in Gaza: Boots Replace Sandals and Bare Feet
Winter in Gaza is cold and wet, with heavy rains and wind coming in from the sea. These conditions are dangerous for children like Mohamed and Salem, who walk to school in tattered sandals.
Winter has brought a strong chill to the village of Al Sawarha, Gaza. At the local Atfal Mustaqbal preschool, children sniffle as their breath turns to steam in the cold air. Winter in Gaza is cold and wet, with heavy rains and wind coming in from the sea.
The children have to walk for 30 minutes to reach the preschool. Families are too poor to provide transportation to the school.
“The children have to walk for 30 minutes to reach the preschool,” said Om Ayman Sawarha, head of the preschool and a longtime resident of the village. “Families are too poor to provide transportation to school.”
Widespread poverty means that many children don’t even have to shoes to make the walk to school a little easier. The children consider themselves lucky if they have second-hand shoes from relatives or older siblings – even if they don’t fit.
“It’s tragic to see children walking in the cold with tattered shoes,” added Om Ayman. “Some have to share shoes with their brothers and sisters, no matter what their sizes are. But nothing is worse than the poor children that have to walk around barefoot.”
A Happy Day at School: Boots for All
Cousins Mohamed and Salem Abu Khalil are two students at the Atfal Mustaqbal preschool. This morning began like any other weekday morning for the tiny pair. Through the windows of the poorly-lit preschool, their faces shone with curiosity. “There was good news to come,” smiled Om Ayman.
Both boys wore old sandals covered in wet mud. Their walk to school took them through orange groves left muddy from Gaza’s winter rains. When their teacher called their names, they jumped up together to get their new TOMS boots, which fit perfectly.
At noon, traces of sunlight warmed up the playground. The ecstatic preschoolers bounded into the play area to enjoy the sun and their new boots. The two cousins live together in the same family house. The unfinished house hosts almost 20 members of the extended family, as well as a backyard full of livestock. Without proper shoes, walking in the yard after a rainy night is a struggle. Now, the two cousins can run and skip with joy through the puddles.
Mohamed and Salem love to sit on their backyard bench, where they share stories and tease each other. “We always find them on the wooden bench,” said Mohamed’s mother Wafaa. “They are the same age and they have their own secrets.”
Now they have their own pair of winter boots, too. “The quality of the boots is so high,” added Wafaa. “They are well-suited to the children of our village, who love to play outdoors.”
The Abu Khalil Family Works Together
Like many others in this village who can barely eke out a living, the Abu Khalil family struggles to provide for their children. Most villagers depend on welfare assistance for goods like flour and rice. The boys’ grandfather uses two donkey carts to deliver these staple items to other villagers. They get paid a reasonable price for their work. “It’s a service to the community and it helps us under these difficult conditions,” said the grandfather.
In his warm new boots, Salem jumped to show off the colorfully decorated donkey carts. Mohamed held his grandfather’s hand as his mother looked on, pleased that the children will not have cold or injured feet. “Tomorrow, I will be able to wave goodbye to the boys without worrying as they start their journey to school,” said Wafaa. “The warm and fur-lined boots ease my mind.”