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Mothers in Gaza: “I cry when I sleep. I cry when I wake up. During the day, I try to be strong for my children”

All photos: Yousef Ruzzi/CARE

All photos: Yousef Ruzzi/CARE

Six months after the start of this devastating conflict in Gaza, CARE spoke to displaced mothers about their current living situation, biggest fears, and their wishes for the future.

Right now the entire population of Gaza, 2.3 million people, is at risk of starving. Since Oct. 7, nearly 1.9 million people, nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s total population, have been displaced. The majority of the 33,207 killed and 75,933 injured are women and children – on average almost six women and children have died every hour since the start of the conflict.

Nowhere and no one in Gaza is safe, and mothers and their children continue to be hit the hardest.

‘I fear for my children’s lives. They are sick all the time’

Nadia, 22, is a mother of two children. She lost her niece and nephew. She is afraid she will also lose her children to sickness or the bombs.

“I cannot believe it has already been six months since the war started. It was the 17th of October when the bombs were dropped on our neighborhood.

We fled to another area and stayed in a school. Shortly after, the school we took shelter in was also bombed and we fled to Rafah, where we now live in a tent.

We thought we were safe here, but a few days ago we were told that we should evacuate soon. No one told us, though, where we can go! Nowhere seems safe. The living conditions are terrible.

We are living in the middle of the street; this is where we were able to set our tent up.

Everyone is suffering — physically and psychologically. It is hard for a human being to constantly live in fear, expecting the worst to happen at any moment.

The most difficult part for me is that I worry for my two children. I had to take them to the hospital a few times, because they are now always sick. They are so small, and I worry they will die of a virus if they don’t die from the bombs.

It has been really cold, and the only clothing I could take were a few items I grabbed when the bombs were falling around us. We don’t have any mattresses to sleep on, and the cold is creeping through the thin mats we are sleeping on.

I keep having to think of my small nephew and niece, who died a few weeks ago. I cannot believe I will never be able to see them again.

The war has changed everything, and nothing will ever be the same. We will never be the same. We have lost so much and fear has drilled a hole in our hearts. I wish for nothing more than this war to end and for us to go back to our homes, or whatever is left of them.

‘I heard my children’s screams when we were buried under the rubble. My biggest fear was that I lost them’

Sawsan takes care of her six children all by herself. She sleeps crying, and she wakes up crying.

“What we have had to live through cannot be worse than what hell might feel like. On the 15th of November, our house was bombed while we were at home. When they pulled me from under the rubble, all I could think of was ‘Where are my children?’

I don’t think there is anything worse for a mother than losing her child. I have never felt such horror and pain as when I thought I had lost them. I heard them screaming, but it took us a while to find them all under the rubble. They are still so small and fragile. Thankfully, all of my six children survived. We were all injured.

My mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and my brother were killed. I miss them so much.

My husband is trying to find a way of earning some money as we have lost everything. I cry when I sleep. I cry when I wake up. During the day, I try to be strong for my children. I miss my family members who were killed, I miss my house, I miss my husband.

We sleep in fear and wake up in fear. The sounds of the airplanes and bombs are keeping us up at night. My youngest daughter is six years old. She shakes in fear even when she is sleeping.

I feel so helpless and powerless, yet I must take care of them. I wish that my children and the children of Gaza can live in peace and safety again. My daughters and sons want to become lawyers, engineers, and dentists. I want them to have a life, and to live their dreams. I don’t want their futures wasted because of this war, I don’t want their lives to be dictated by fear and hunger.”

‘I miss seeing people smile. There is no joy. Everyone is mourning’

Salam says she wishes her children could grow up in peace and stability, but she has grave doubts.

The food we have been eating for the past six months is making us all sick.

I have four children, three girls and one boy. We had to leave our house seven days after the war started, and were told we should go south. We took shelter in a school, which was then bombed without warning. Thankfully, we all survived. We now live in Rafah in a tent.

We don’t feel safe, and we haven’t felt any joy for six months. I got so sick from the lack of proper food that I had to go to hospital for two days. It takes hours every day to get water, and the water we get is polluted or very expensive.

It breaks my heart that my children cannot go to school; they don’t want to play either.

My husband’s mother died, and my family is still in Gaza City. I haven’t been able to reach them, and I do not know whether they are dead or alive.

More than anything I miss seeing smiles on people’s faces. There is no joy. Every day we lose someone who is dear to us. Everyone around us is sad and in mourning.

My children keep asking me when we will go back home. What shall I tell them? My children are cold all the time.

I think any mother in this world can imagine how hard it is if your child is cold and suffering, and there is simply nothing you can do but hug them… and yet you still feel them shaking from cold and fear. A few days ago, CARE supported us with mattresses, blankets, and pillows. Our situation is thankfully a bit better now — at least we are not cold anymore. All that I want is an end to this occupation and for my children to grow up in peace and stability.”

‘My daughters follow me everywhere and never want to be alone’

Lara is divorced and lives with three of her five children in a tent in Rafah. Her asthma is getting worse from all the burnt firewood, making it hard for her to breathe.

“These past six months have been so exhausting. I fled with three of my five children. I am divorced and my ex-husband has custody over two of my daughters.

There were missiles everywhere when we left our house. Initially, we fled with my mother and my sister-in-law, but we were separated during the bombardments. We first fled in a car, but then later we simply had to run from the bullets.

We took shelter in a hospital which was then bombed. For a while, we stayed in empty houses as we were too tired to continue.

I suffer from asthma and severe migraines. Living in a tent, the smoke from firewood all around us makes it very hard for me to breathe. I also have issues with my legs. When I walk, they swell. Having to run for my life was very hard for me.

My children are also not the same anymore. Wherever I go, they follow me. They don’t want to stay in the tent by themselves for even a minute. They don’t go out to play – they just want to stay next to me.

I hope for my daughters that life will become easier and that this war will end. I wish for my daughters that happiness will return, and that they can do what they want with their lives.”


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What you can do to help

The United Nations Security Council finally passed a resolution (UNSCR 2728) on March 25 demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, the immediate and unconditional release of hostages, stressing the urgent need for humanitarian access and flow of aid. This resolution, though binding, is yet to be implemented. Civilians and aid workers continue to fall under the bombs, and famine is imminent with people already dying from malnutrition — predominantly children. The ceasefire must be respected and implemented now so that food, medicine, and other vital aid can reach exhausted Palestinians in Gaza, especially women and children. There is no time left. It is too late already for many. The international community must act swiftly to avert a deepening humanitarian catastrophe.

CARE calls for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and the unfettered passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

*All names have been changed for protection reasons.

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