Voices of Children

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Three-year-old Rahma knew nothing but poverty

© UNICEF-OPT/2005
Rahma's mother and siblings in front of their shack

GAZA, 26 January 2005 - The family of three-year-old Rahma Ibrahim abu Shamas ekes out a miserable existence in a bleak area of the central Gaza Strip known as al-Birka. An agricultural area dominated by sand dunes, about 100 families struggle to survive in an area with few natural resources, spiraling poverty and the constant threat of live fire.

Shadowing over them is the settlement of Gush Qatif and Israeli army positions – some as close as 100-meters. Live fire is so common for the 1000 or so residents that children now instinctively drop to the ground at the first sound of machine gun fire.

The Gaza Strip is universally regarded as one of the most impoverished and densely populated places on earth – but Rahma’s area can be best described as desperately poor. Her family lives in a simple two-room shack, with no doors, windows, kitchen or running water. Water has to be carried in jerry cans from neighboring homes. Food is prepared outside on an open fire.

The morning of January 26 - the day Rahma was shot - began like any other in the child’s life. The family gathered at 7am to consume a meal that consists of nothing more than cups of tea. Rahma awoke late to find the teapot empty, so her mother prepared a second serving.

Rahma was drinking a second cup when shots rang out from the direction of the nearby Israeli army position. The ten children of the family and their parents fled to seek cover behind the walls of their two rooms. Rahma didn't move in order not to spill the tea from her second cup. While the mother was calling her she believed her daughter to be safe on the floor next to the fire.

Without warning, Rahma was hit in the head in front of all members of her family by a high caliber machine gun bullet. Her body fell to the ground. The family had to use the cell phone of the neighbors to call the ambulance which arrived after 10 minutes. Rahma's 17-year-old sister carried the body to the ambulance when she stopped breathing.

Rahma was particularly attached to her 12 years old sister Basma. She loved her mother and always played with her while she was doing the family laundry in front of their shack, her grandmother said. Since there are no toys or play materials, the children play with stones instead. With a wooden stick young Rahma imitated her brothers pretending that she can already write and do homework. 

UNICEF is communicating with the Ministry of Health to coordinate delivery of first aid kits, plus first aid training to families in al-Birka and to hold health awareness sessions. A UNICEF supported psycho-social emergency team will hold debriefing sessions with children in the area. A number of family water kits will be distributed to enable families to keep water supplies at their own homes.

UNICEF routinely visits the nearby school and supports remedial education classes. Recently school in the box emergency supplies were delivered by UNICEF to the school to support students from disadvantaged families with stationary and other material needed in the school.

Says Ibtisam Abu-Shammala, a UNICEF project officer who visited Rahma’s family shortly after the incident: “They are so poor, and their situation isn’t improving. They don’t even have doors on their homes. The walls of the house are made of sand.”

She added that it seems breakfasts typically consist of hot tea – even for young children like Rahma.

 

 
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