I’m writing to you from Rafah, Gaza where I am staying with the Nasrallah family in their wonderful home here in the Tel Al Sutan housing complex. This is the family whom Rachel Corrie gave her life to protect, standing before the Israeli Army bulldozer that was heading towards their home. There’s so much to tell about their neighborhood and family … but I’ll save that for my next message.
Right now, good news: 3888 children have received the backpack kits with schools supplies, children’s books, and a hand-written note inside. These children live in Beit Lahiya, Sheja'iya, and Khan Younis, three of the hardest hit neighborhoods during Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2014 (neighborhoods in the south were also deeply impacted – we only had enough for children from these 16 schools).
In Gaza, schools are running double shifts due to a lack of funds and lack of building supplies to build more schools. The plan is to run single shifts, but they just can’t get there yet … some schools are even running three shifts. We delivered the school supplies directly to the children, just outside each school, returning for both shifts. Sometimes we arrived just at change of shift, when the whole administration would change to bring the new groups of students in. I was surprised to see a high school suddenly change to a primary school!
In most schools the children were lined up to receive the backpack kits – and the lines stretch far into the schoolyard. We personally gave away up to 400 backpack kits just outside the gate of each school, student by student!
Rebuilding Alliance is deeply indebted to the staff at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) who took it upon themselves to help us resolve the challenges of distributing the backpack kits. Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei, the Executive Director of GCMHP, helped me meet with Dr. Akram Hammad, the representative of the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Education, to plan the distribution and explain the constraints required on our work, by U.S. law. Dr. Akram Hammad helped us find a way forward and communicated with the school districts to let them know the plans.
Each day, Alaa Hammouda, the talented P.R. coordinator at GCMHP connected with each of the schools to let them know we were coming. Her supervisor, Marwan Diab, was a tremendous resource too. Our giving team, including Alaa and two or three volunteers from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme’s prestigious community mental health training program and me, set out as early as we could each day, continuing well past the normal end of day. Really great to have the opportunity to work with Alaa, Nour, Ameer and Suheil!
Thank you again to all who donated for the Backpack Kits for Gaza’s Children project, and to the hundred volunteers who helped us fill those backpacks with childrens books, school supplies and personal messages at the Hudson Valley Islamic Center. Thank you again to Kelly Leilani Main and Adam Ramadan for organizing this remarkable project, and to Mr. Mohammad Khader for coordinating preclearance and shipping!
Today, Saturday, bright and early, I visted the sites of Rebuilding Alliance's past projects in Rafah to see what's happening now. Next, I met with the head of the Rafah Women’s Association, a U.N. affiliate organization, and with one of three women's centers affiliated with GCMHP to develop the distribution plan for our next initiative, Brighten the Future of Gaza’s Children. Tomorrow, I start discussions with UNRWA to ask them to help Rebuilding Alliance import a shipping container full of solar-powered lights. I hope they say yes, and I hope the whole world will respond and pitch-in to donate. I look forward to sharing the details with you in a few days time.
In closing, to all who are celebrating, Happy Chanukah! And to all who care about these children, thank you.
Founder and Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance
P.S. If you would like to support Rebuilding Alliance's work, please do. Please give now by clicking on this link.