Crisis in West Bank and Gaza: A visit to Gaza
By René Celaya, country director CARE West Bank and Gaza
Gaza City/Jerusalem, 18.08.2014: Last week, I visited CARE and our partners’ staff in Gaza. I believed the images available through the media had prepared me to see a lot of destruction and suffering. However, standing in front of a building that had been destroyed was still overwhelming. I was surprised and inspired by the strong determination expressed by Gaza residents to get on with their lives even though they have been through so much. Right now there is little they can do but endure and hope for a future without war.
CARE can help by providing health services, but the problem is the environment in which people are living. Pregnant women are at particular risk. They have to give birth in shelters, without sanitation, and no vaccines for the child. A lot of pregnant women are suffering from anemia, which makes them very vulnerable in this situation. With so much of the government health service having been destroyed and receiving people injured by the war, there is no capacity to treat people with other acute health problems or chronic diseases. To rebuild the health services, buildings, infrastructure and providing opportunities for people to support themselves is going to take a long time and require fundamental changes. That job needs to start as soon as there is a lasting cease fire.
I went with one of the mobile health teams run by CARE and our partner organization Palestinian Medical Relief Society to a primary school where 2400 people are sheltered. It was great to see services they are able to provide, but they cannot help everyone. One doctor examined a young girl with leukemia. She had been discharged from the hospital because they could not provide necessary care. The question was how to support her and her family during her last days.
There is the suffering we see from the bombs, and there is so much suffering we don’t see.
Through all this tragedy, I was struck by the incredible resilience of the people of Gaza: Their ability to endure, recover and get on with life. When their houses have been bombed, they go back to recover whatever they can: clothes or a piece of furniture they can sell. Now there is a cease fire and they don’t know if there will be more rockets, but children are playing in the streets. During the war, the children would hear a rocket exploding, but they wouldn’t run. They’re so used to it. This is the norm in Gaza.
One image that will stay with me was a picture from a birthday party during the war. Some members of one family that has been displaced from their home had birthday celebration during the war and they decided to have a party even though the city was being hit by rockets. In the picture, they were all sitting around a birthday cake. While I was there, I also saw a wedding party. They have to continue with life.
CARE is doing what we can to support them with emergency medical services and to recover their lives and livelihoods once there is a lasting cease fire. We work closely with local partner organizations, among them the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS). They told me they appreciated CARE’s support, the fact that we’re not taking their place, but supporting them. They feel respected, not replaced. Having worked with CARE before the latest crisis, they felt better prepared for their response. They have learned from us about operations and strategic issues, especially about the livelihood approach and gender issues. They understand better the different needs of women, men, boys and girls.
This is how CARE want’s to assist. We bring our expertise and global experiences to local partners and work with them to help the women, men, boys and girls of Gaza achieve greater self-reliance, sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment.