Children in Gaza like mine don’t think they’ll ever eat properly again

Children in Gaza like mine don’t think they’ll ever eat properly again

Flour, bread, and vegetables were not available (Picture: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

As soon as I got the text message confirming that I would receive another sponsorship payment to help feed my four children, I cried tears of joy.

It was January of this year, but the payment would come through in March. As soon as it cleared, I hurriedly withdrew the money, then went straight to the market – where I bought three blankets, flour, vegetables, and canned food.

I also bought a coat for my 10-year-old daughter, Mariam, who was very sick and needed warmth.

When Mariam saw the food and coat, she was beyond ecstatic. She actually told me she thought we’d never eat things like bread again.

This sponsorship payment felt like a lifeline in the darkest time of our lives. As a single mother in Gaza right now, I was eternally grateful for it.

Ever since my husband passed away seven years ago, raising my four children – Mohammed, 16, Abdulhay, 15, Mahmoud, 12, and Mariam – has felt impossible at times.

Losing the love of my life and father of my children was incredibly difficult, but there was a light during the grief.

Around that time, I randomly met a fellow widow in a bank, who told me about Islamic Relief’s child sponsorship programme. It’s open to orphans, which – according to Islamic tradition – is defined as a child who has no father.

When I got home, I went on the charity’s website and decided to register my two youngest children.

That’s when I started receiving €115 (£98) for each child every three months. This is the sole income I have relied on since my husband’s death, as well as some irregular other charities too.

With this money, I could help provide basic daily needs for all of my children, like food, drink, clothing, toys and education. I also enrolled my children in an educational centre to receive private lessons to improve their academic performance. 

We have survived this way for years. Then 7 October happened and our world literally crumbled.

I’m terrified I’ll lose my children (Credits: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled)

We lived in a house in the Jabalia Refugee Camp, which we were able to stay in for 10 days. We had to leave after a missile terrifyingly landed in our living room, but thankfully didn’t actually explode.

We spent the entire night on the street, amidst the cold, fear and shelling. Once dawn broke – with only the clothes on our back – we went to a nearby relative’s place for two days, then started making our way down to Rafah in the south of Gaza.

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Initially, we started the journey on foot but it was too difficult so we managed to get a lift the rest of the way.

Once we got to Rafah, we couldn’t find a safe place to stay so we decided to go back to Deir al-Balah after just one day there because that’s where my aunt’s husband was.

He promptly welcomed us – despite being displaced himself – to his tent inside a school there with 15 other people. The tent was too small for all five of us to stay in so I couldn’t sleep well, especially when rainwater seeped through during downpours.

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The school’s principal managed to find us three mattresses, so I laid one down with nylon bags as covers. This is where we have lived until this day.

The tent was too small for all five of us (Picture: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled)

We quickly noticed that flour, bread, and vegetables were not available. I would send my children to free distribution centres, where they would wait for hours in long queues, often coming back empty-handed. If they did manage to get something, it was nowhere near enough. 

We also struggled to fill water for bathing or drinking. Even when available, it was expensive – just a single jug cost five shekels (just over £1) compared to just one shekel (20p) before. 

We had lentils, so we survived on lentil soup for around two months. I cooked over an open fire; my children would gather firewood from the streets amidst the bombing and terror so I could make it. 

It was terrifying.

A Palestinian Islamic Relief staff member shares what a day in their life looks like now

‘At the start of every day, my kids wake up early.

‘We adults often want to sleep a little longer, because we’ve been awake long into the night, listening to the sound of planes and bombing. 

‘When my son woke us today and we urged him to go back to sleep, he protested that, “I am used to waking up early to go to school.” My wife reminded him that schools are not open now. 

‘At least he has lots of playmates here. There are 15 children sheltering in this house, where we have been living since we were ordered to evacuate our home in northern Gaza.

‘The kids’ favourite breakfast is now tea and biscuits, which are crumbly and baked in the oven. They are the perfect shape to dip into hot tea, and the sugary treat provides a welcome energy boost for the long, gruelling day ahead. 

‘Figuring out lunch is another challenge. We need to consider meals that use as little water as possible, since water is now increasingly hard to find. For the same reason, we minimise the number of dishes that need to be washed. And, with many bakeries closed, we try to make meals without bread.  

‘Staples are harder to come by. Along with olives left unharvested, cheese and eggs have risen in price as farmers are currently unable to reach their land.

‘In these difficult times, it is hard to find protein so most of our cooking is without meat.  

‘We don’t make an evening meal anymore, making do with just two meals a day. The kids will sometimes have snacks such as cucumber and tomatoes with cheese.  

‘One night they found a packet of noodles at a nearby shop, which they insisted we buy. Normally we’d worry such items are unhealthy refuse, but compared to the possibility of being blown to pieces by a bomb, it didn’t seem so bad.

‘Limited as our diet is, my family is lucky to have this food. Many families who are seeking shelter only receive a loaf of bread and a can of tuna, which must last two people all day. They walk 2-3 kilometres to collect 20 litres of water and wait for two hours for the chance to buy bread.  

‘What they need – what all families in Palestine need – is an immediate ceasefire and an end to this nightmare of suffering.

The bombs were one thing, but knowing my children could starve or contract illnesses was another fear.  And that fear was confirmed when Mahmoud contracted viral hepatitis.

When we went to the doctor, he said my son needed vitamins, health supplements, and sweets, then prescribed medication that I couldn’t afford. So instead of buying the necessary drugs, I had to isolate my son from the rest of his siblings for a month.

Conditions in the shelter where we still live are awful – I’m terrified I’ll lose my children. 

Thankfully, in March, the previously mentioned sponsorship payment came through and things didn’t feel so dire for a little while.

Our whole family has been praying fervently to Allah to reward the sponsor who made sure that – in the most dire of circumstances – we had some help

The next sponsorship payment is due in June – Inshallah.

Becoming a sponsor is easy. On the Islamic Relief website, there’s even a section where you can specifically sponsor an orphan in Gaza for just £59 per month.

If you have the means to do so, your support could mean the world to families like mine.

Mariam – who has been deprived of our entire childhood and her right to live a safe life – wants her gratitude to reach that sponsor. She prays for them to have a long and prosperous life, safe from harm and evil. 

I do the same for her. For all of us in Gaza.

You can sponsor an orphan in Gaza via Islamic Relief’s website here.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

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