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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

UNICEF Project Officer and mother of three copes with Gaza crisis

A Palestinian woman waits to receive food supplies at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Gaza, where temporary ceasefires have allowed for some humanitarian aid but basic necessities are still scarce.

By Natacha Ikoli

NEW YORK, USA, 12 January 2009 – UNICEF has 10,000 staff working around the world in a wide range of environments, including conflicts such as the one now under way in the Gaza Strip. Ten stalwart UNICEF staff members have remained in Gaza throughout the current crisis there, working under very difficult and dangerous conditions in an effort to bring some relief to children in need.

One of those workers, Reem, is a Project Officer with the UNICEF child protection team. Living and working in Gaza with her 11-year-old twins, her 15-year-old son and her husband has been particularly challenging in the past few weeks.

In a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio today, she described life in the midst of crisis.

‘Even home is not secure’
Soon after the conflict began over two weeks ago, Reem and her family were forced to move in with her in-laws. Their own home in the Remel area of Gaza City was too close to a number of targeted locations and, therefore, no longer safe.

“Since the air strike and the military operation started in Gaza, it hasn't been safe at all. It’s not safe to be in the street, and sometimes it’s not even safe to be at home,” said Reem.

“We moved to live in the same apartment as my husband’s parents and we believe somehow it's safer. I don't know if it is, but at least we feel like it's safer,” she continued.

Daily chores are risky

Because of Gaza’s isolation from the outside world, basic necessities are hard to find. In this context, executing small daily chores has become a dangerous business.

“My husband used to go outside even though it was risky to get some food, some water or some bread,” said Reem. “Now that there is a three-hour humanitarian corridor [each day], it’s a little bit safer to go out and to get what you need."

“However, some attacks take place during these hours, so it's not 100 per cent safe,” she added.

Children need reassurance

Meanwhile, limited and intermittent electric power in Gaza has significantly worsened living conditions there, forcing thousands of people to live in the dark.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0003/El Baba
A boy stands barefoot, holding his shoes, amidst rubble and debris on a street destroyed by bombing in a refugee camp near Rafah, southern Gaza.

“I had no electricity for more than 13 days,” said Reem. “Today was the first day we've had electricity, so we were busy doing some washing, cleaning and cooking in the house that gave us a sense of normalcy.”

Many children in Gaza are suffering from the lack of food and safe water, and from the fact that they the are being denied a protective environment. Reem described how to she tries to reassure her own children.

“I am trying to control myself and manage my stress in order not to affect my children,” she explained. “Me and my husband are trying to be calm in front of the children, so that they can feel a little less stressed.”




12 January 2009: Reem, a UNICEF staff member in Gaza, talks about living, working and protecting her own family in the midst of crisis.
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