Tales of bravery and commitment: Humanitarian workers on the front lines of Gaza
Mouhammed, the head of emergency and disaster management at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), rises at 6:30 AM, getting just three hours of rest lately. He resides in a shared room with 25 PRCS volunteers at the emergency operation center in the northern region of Gaza Strip.
Since October 7th, increased fighting in Gaza has resulted in severe humanitarian impacts, causing tens of thousands of casualties and injuries throughout the region. Along with this, many homes, schools, medical facilities, and other essential infrastructure have been demolished.
In the midst of difficult circumstances, PRCS has played a significant role in offering aid during rescue missions and providing assistance. They have also helped with the delivery of humanitarian aid through the Rafah crossing.
At 7 AM, Mouhammed has already begun assigning tasks to different teams.
Mouhammed states that their team’s responsibilities include retrieving deceased bodies, transporting individuals who are wounded or suffering from cancer or kidney diseases to medical facilities, and relocating civilians, particularly the elderly and children, to safer locations. Additionally, they assist in locating missing persons and reuniting families who have been separated due to the situation in the Strip.
I will always remember one particular moment when we received a seriously wounded child who was clutching a fresh loaf of bread. Despite her condition, she insisted on keeping it by her side, explaining that it was meant for her dinner.
Due to the ongoing conflict, Mouhammed has been separated from his wife and three children who were forced to relocate to the south. The frequent outages of power and telecommunication services, caused by a shortage of fuel, have made it challenging for families to remain in contact.
Mouhammed expresses his longing for the times spent with his family, where he treasured their laughter and witnessed the happiness on their faces.
Similar to Mouhammed, Dr. Ahmed Muhanna, a physician specializing in anesthesiology and the head of Awda Hospital located in Tal Al Zataar Camp in the northern region, has been separated from his wife and three children since the beginning of the conflict.
We are receiving a large number of injured individuals, but our capacity is limited and our supplies are becoming depleted. Additionally, we are also receiving displaced individuals with inflammations, infections, and skin conditions as a result of overcrowded shelters.
14 out of 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were operational before the war. Among them are two smaller hospitals in the northern region that are partially functioning and accepting patients, but with limited services and no ability to perform surgeries. The other 12 hospitals in the southern region are also partially functional as of December 6th.
Ahmed shares that the driving force for him is witnessing the great demand for healthcare services. It is essential to maintain the functioning of this hospital. He emphasizes that he is not working alone in this effort; his colleagues, including doctors, nurses, and the entire team, are committed to offering aid despite feeling tired and being separated from their loved ones.
As of December 3rd, approximately 1.9 million individuals in Gaza, which makes up nearly 85% of the total population, were believed to be displaced within the region. Out of that number, almost 1.2 million are currently seeking refuge in the 156 facilities operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) throughout Gaza.
Hala, a mother of four, currently resides as an internally displaced person. She is employed as a programme coordinator at Alianza-ActionAid International NGO, where she assists women who have been affected by providing services such as psychosocial support and cash assistance.
Hala has been forced to move six times, often leaving in the middle of the night. Her family currently lives in Rafah, located in the southern part of Gaza, sharing an empty apartment with two other families. She struggles to sleep at night, disturbed by her children’s cries during periods of conflict and occasional appearances of cockroaches.
Hala reflects on her home, which was recently renovated. She thinks back to her life before and expresses concern for her beloved cat, Smoky, whom she had to leave behind. She left food for him and opened the windows so he could come and go. She wonders about his fate.
People of all ages from Gaza are coming together to help their communities. This includes Foad Abu Fanoun, a 27-year-old who works as a project coordinator at Awda NGO. He currently oversees the distribution of hot meals to patients, displaced families, and staff at Awda Hospital in Nusairat Camp in the northern region.
According to Foad, our daily task is to supply 600 hot meals, which is the sole source of sustenance for everyone. The aid items, such as food, that enter Gaza are not enough to meet the demand. It is difficult to find necessary supplies in the market, so we make do with whatever is available when cooking.
Foad shares that he has made a daily routine of gathering stray animals in the vicinity and providing them with leftover food scraps. This brings him a sense of solace.
“He longs for the simple joys of sitting on the balcony with his family, sipping tea and gazing at the full moon,” he recalls, thinking back on the happy moments.
Ayman Shublaq, a staff member of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Gaza, shares that he and his family have been forced to move south and face difficulties finding basic necessities like bread and food. As someone who has experienced previous wars in Gaza, Ayman expresses that the current situation is unlike anything he has seen before. He also mentions the constant fear he faces when leaving his home for work or errands, unsure if he will be able to return to his family.
Ayman collaborates with WFP groups to offer food aid to individuals in need. Nevertheless, they encounter significant obstacles such as the destruction of bakeries. The security conditions and inadequate communication further impede their ability to move and distribute aid.
During the temporary break in hostilities, Ayman participated in a humanitarian mission, distributing food to families who had been unable to receive aid for several weeks. Upon returning to his birthplace and family’s residence in Gaza City, he was overcome with emotion upon seeing the destruction and devastation. He could sense the pain and hardship in the eyes of the people, even before they expressed it verbally.
During the recent seven-day ceasefire, the World Food Programme provided aid to approximately 250,000 individuals. This support included distributing food packages, fresh bread, hot meals, and electronic vouchers for use in the limited open markets.
The United Nations and its relief organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are collaborating to address urgent requirements, as they have initiated a Flash Appeal seeking $1.2 billion to carry out the response strategy for 2.2 million individuals in the Gaza Strip and 500,000 in the West Bank.
Partners are offering aid and support by utilizing their available resources. This includes supplying clean water, food, medical supplies and consultations, hygiene kits, and mental health services.
The Sharek Youth Forum is a youth-led group that is actively helping displaced families both within and outside of shelters.
Nidal, the coordinator of emergency and disaster management in Gaza Strip for Sharek, states that they are striving to address the deficiencies and come up with solutions using the resources and capacity available. However, despite their best efforts, the amount of aid received is still inadequate to meet the needs.
Furthermore, Sharek organizes leisurely events to assist children living in shelters in maintaining a sense of regularity.
Nidal explains that children are currently facing fear due to their past experiences. A significant number of them have suddenly lost their family members and homes.
After several weeks of the war beginning, the residents of Gaza are fatigued. They lack a secure place to seek refuge and have limited resources for survival. They are in need of essential supplies, vital medical assistance, and decent housing, but most importantly, they long for an end to the sound of weapons.