For families trapped in shelters, e-vouchers made life easier
By Monica Awad
GAZA, State of Palestine, 3 September 2014 - Kifah Abu Shanab, husband Nabil and four children have just returned home in the Shejaiya neighbourhood, which was partly levelled by 50 days of armed conflict in Gaza.
The family fled heavy fighting in the early days of the war, and spent most of it taking shelter in the crowded Carmel boy’s school in Gaza City. These hardships compound painful memories of the fighting. The Abu Shanab family and other relatives huddled at home those first terrifying days as and missiles and shells rained around them.
“We all went downstairs and hid in the basement. Baba said, ‘No one is leaving without Auntie Sana’,” 10-year-old Aseel tells, referring to her father speaking of his sister, who has a disability. “He even locked the door to make sure no one would try and leave her behind.” Only when an ambulance was able to reach the family did they all flee, along with Auntie Sana.
At the shelter, the family joined an estimated 460,000 Gaza residents forced to leave their homes and move to overcrowded schools, or in the homes of friends or relatives. Water and food were scarce, and poor hygiene resulted in diarrhea, lice and skin diseases.
While seeking shelter in the school for over a month, Kifah and her family received an e-voucher from UNICEF and WFP, enabling them to purchase critically needed food and water, sanitation and hygiene items.
“We left with nothing. Being able to buy the items we needed to survive, while maintaing freedom and dignity, meant a lot to us,” Kifah says.
For nine months prior to the escalation, Nabil, a civil servant, had not been paid, meaning the family had no cash reserves. Kifah had to sell her gold dowry – a woman’s last reserve in case of hardship – to pay for food for the family.
On August 26, a long-term ceasefire went into effect and many families went back home – provided it was still standing. Up to 70,000 people found themselves without roofs over their heads, as their houses were too damaged to live in.
The Abu Shanab family found their home in ruins – inhabitable, but just barely. A 1.5-metre hole gapes in the wall of the children’s room, where a missile tore through it. The water tank on the roof of the two-storey building was destroyed and the windows in the rest of the house blown out. They, like most other families in Gaza, receive electricity only six hours a day.
Now repairing the damage to their home is going to cost NIS 15,000, about $4,200. The cold rains of winter are just around the corner, and the school year is scheduled to begin with its accompanying costs. Faced with all this, Kifah is keen to receive a UNICEF e- voucher that includes school uniforms. She plans to take her three school-aged children Aseel, Mohammed and Sally to have them try on their uniforms, a regular task in changed surroundings. “We have no windows, no doors, no water, no clothes and no salary,” she says, gloomily. “But thank god, we are safe.”
Kifah, 30, says she is at her wit’s end trying to carry out the most basic tasks. “I am very hygienic,” she says. “I have a college education. I know how important it is to keep things clean.” But obtaining the water for washing her children, age five to ten, is a back-breaking chore.
A UNICEF-funded community water filling points – one of 14 in all - has been set up 300 metres from their home. After carrying two jugs of water from the only available clean water source nearby, she had to take medicine for the resulting back pain.
The water she transported was just enough to wash her children and then flush the stagnating toilet. Due to damage to the water network and power outages that effect water pumps, only ten per cent of Gaza residents are receiving water once a day for six to eight hours per day, while the rest of the population receive water every four to five days. The road to recovery will be long for Palestinian families in Gaza.