It's Time For Light

Disability No Barrier for True Athletes in Gaza

Written by: Fadi Al-Naji, We Are Not Numbers (WANN)

I was eager to meet the 20-year-old disabled athlete, Ahmed Abu Namous. I heard about him from Eid Shaqoura, director of the Al-Basma Club. Eid told me about Ahmed’s strong spirit and his fierce refusal to let his disability impede him from achieving his goals.

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

A term that means “smile” in Arabic, Al-Basma is a Palestinian nonprofit established in 2005 by Eid to bring parasports to Gaza. His ultimate mission: to develop the skills of people with disabilities and reintegrate them into all aspects of life—particularly sports and recreation. And with the number of amputees created by the violent Israeli response to Gaza’s Great Return March at a staggering 54, his “business” is booming.

When I arrived at the school yard in Beit Lahia—a town in the northern corner of the Gaza Strip—I heard the coach whistle during a wheelchair-basketball match. One of the players, situated well in front of the basket, took two throws—with the ball sailing in successfully. The crowd erupted, whistling and applauding raucously. I realized it was him—Ahmed Abu Namous!

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Ahmed’s right leg was amputated in 2013. He was just 15 at the time and thought he could slip right through the fence separating Gaza from Israel. However, the second he got too close, he was shot with an exploding bullet by an Israeli sniper.

On that day, he lost his leg, not his love of sport or his determination to play. And his drive paid off: Ahmed was named best football (soccer) player in a 2017 competition for disabled people in Gaza and is working hard to become a professional [para] basketball player so he can participate in global contests held in Turkey (assuming he is allowed to leave).

Ahmed said,“Joining the Al-Basma Club was the turning point in my life after my injury. I had little contact with the community until I found it. Watching other players deal with their hardships taught me a lesson about my own suffering. Now, I can compete even with normal players. Whenever I play basketball, I feel strong and free.’’

In addition to wheelchair basketball, Al-Basma organizes competitions featuring volleyball, marathons, javelin and swimming. Periodically, the players train with and even compete against able athletes, to better integrate them socially.  

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

“Every detail of their daily life is a challenge,’’ said Eid Shaqoura. “Our main goal of this club is to work with love and spirit. Disabled people shouldn’t feel ‘odd’ or like outcasts. We believe the best way to accelerate their rehabilitation is by helping them integrate into society and make sure their voices and views are heard.’’

Mohammed Dahman is one of the basketball coaches and manages a team of five disabled players.

“These disabled players are learning fast. They have the capability to sharpen their skills and win many contests in the future. But our major challenge is a lack of equipment, courts and wheelchairs,’’ Dahman said. Recently, the club asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to donate wheelchairs for more than 40 disabled girls.

Eid agreed, saying, “A lack of funding is the organization’s main obstacle. International donor organizations want to contribute or finance food and clothes. But activities like sports are important too, to build self-esteem and pride.”

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

In addition to a shortage of proper equipment, the funding shortfall also means the club cannot accept more than its current 150 members.

Due to the lack of funding, I can’t work properly. For instance, I can’t achieve my suggested project to let our players play in public areas such as squares and corniche. It’s a simple project which doesn’t need much funds, but I struggle to find enough donors.   

Another challenge faced by the club and its members is a lack of electricity. Currently, power is on only an average of four hours per day due to a shortage of fuel.

However, thanks to t Rebuilding Alliance, solar-powered lights have been donated to the Al-Basma Club as part of the “It’s Time for Light” campaign. These “Light of Hope” (Nur al-Amal) solar lamps have been distributed to all of Al-Basma’s members.

“Now I can light up my room when I return home and can give up using candles, which are dangerous because they cause fires,’’Ahmed said. “In a way, it’s a symbol. It’s a light of hope like the club has been for me.”

 



 

Anwar's story, a 31 y/o who has been employed by UNRWA for over six years.

Written by: Ali Abusheikh, wearenotnumbers.org

A job that pays enough to survive and support one’s family is valued above all things in Gaza, and no wonder. The overall unemployment rate currently hovers at 49% and reaches nearly 65% amongst teenagers and young adults (15-29 y/o). It is also important to mention that, 85% of all unemployed individuals are women. That means, 2 million people in Gaza- 53% of their population -live in poverty.

The best of the jobs in Gaza- with fair, relatively stable salaries -are with international NGOs, including the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, which alone employs nearly 13,000 residents. However, the decision made by the U.S. administration of Donald Trump to cut funding for UNRWA from $365 million to $65 million has jeopardized even these “safe” jobs.

This month, UNRWA announced that they are immediately laying off 113 of their employees and transitioning close to 600 full-time workers to part-time employment. The employees' union estimates about 1,000 jobs will eventually be slashed.

Among them is, Anwar Hamad, a 31-year-old social worker and mother who has been employed by UNRWA for about six and a half years.

Anwar states, "I worked very hard to get this job. I went through a long, tiring process of exams and interviews until I got accepted. The thought of losing it now paralyzes me. I worked too hard to lose it so easily!”

Anwar’s job is to identify and categorize families in need of UN aid such as food. She questions, "Who will do this once we lose our jobs? Who will make sure these families are served?"

Anwar, the mother of four children, has been informed that her contract will be terminated by the end of the year and that in the meantime, her pay will be cut- from $900 to $450 monthly -in. Not to mention that, $400 of that $450 will go to the bank in order to repay a loan she took out two months ago to build her own house.

"I feel insecure and lost,” she says. “I gave up another job offer so I could get this job. I thought I would feel safe in this one."

Anwar’s husband is an employee of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which means he only receives half of his salary due to cutbacks imposed as part of the PA’s campaign to force the government in Gaza, Hamas, to surrender their authority.

"We can no longer afford the rent on our house; how can we pay our expenses without my job?” Anwar asks. “We have to move out by the end of this month. I will go to my mother’s, along with our kids. But my husband will have to live with his family. My family will be separated."

To make things even worst, Anwar’s job with UNRWA has allowed her to be the backbone of her entire family. However, now that she has been laid off, her family will no longer be able to afford school expenses for their children; and, she will struggle to continue financially helping her mother, nine sisters, and two younger brothers who are unemployed.

"When I got the email saying that I would no longer have a permanent contract, it was the worst moment in my whole life,” she says. “I went home and couldn’t eat or drink. The email felt like my execution."

UNRWA employees fear that more layoffs are coming and are overwhelmed by the large amount of work they have been faced with as a result of the layoffs that have already taken place. That’s why they are protesting.

Although the layoffs were triggered by U.S. funding cuts, Anwar and her coworkers also blame UNRWA management. They insist that the agency’s efforts to raise money from other sources had been going well and that there are ways to save resources other than firing staff. In particular, they question why the first employees to be laid off were those assigned to emergency programs, such as social workers, security guards, and school counselors.

"UNRWA was created to help Palestinians and create work opportunities for them, not the opposite,” says Anwar. “What is going on doesn't make any sense.”

 

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Solar Fills A Dark House With Light

 

Solar fills a dark house with light

Ali Abusheikh, WeAreNotNumbers.org

One of the many consequences of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a lack of income. According to the World Bank, annual income per person in Gaza fell from $2,659 in 1994 to $1,826 in 2018. In large part, that devastating statistic is due to unemployment—which is the highest in the World Bank's database.

So, what does this look like on a human level? An example is Nedal Hutthut, 47, who lives with his wife, three sons and two daughters in a tiny cement house in the al-Shati Refugee Camp west of Gaza City. Like many other in the neighborhood, the home is scantily furnished.

Photo taken by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo taken by: Mohammed Mansour

For the six of them, there are two bedrooms, a living room, a small kitchen and one bathroom. An old fan, an even more ancient TV and a few armchairs are all they have for furniture. They sleep on the floor.

Nedal is unemployed and the U.N. aid they receive every three months is insufficient. “I used to sell things like groceries from a cart, but then the owner went bankrupt. I am still looking for another job, but I can’t find any. I don’t even have a single shekel for us to buy water to drink,” he says, referring to the fact that the water from their faucets is undrinkable.

“I go to the market very late so I can collect food [that is discarded or has fallen] from under the sellers’ carts. I can’t find other ways to feed my kids,” he explains. When his wife prepares meals at home, the ingredients are usually donated by neighbors or relatives. Cooking is difficult even with donations, however. Cooking gas is too expensive.

Um [mother of] Muhammed, Nedal’s wife, adds, “Our neighbors sometimes help by paying for the cooking gas. We need help with everything. I just returned from my family’s house in Khan Younis and they gave me some sugar.”

Um Muhammed does not visit her family very often, since she can’t afford transportation; she usually goes only when food or other aid is needed. Their financial state isn’t that good either, but they try to help whenever possible.

Photo taken by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo taken by: Mohammed Mansour

The couple’s oldest son, Muhmmed, is 23 and thus could normally work and contribute an income. However, he was in a car accident when he was a child, and one of his feet was injured—requiring insertion of seven platinum rods and making it difficult for him to stand for very long.  This has made it hard for him to find paid work.

“He tries so hard to find a job. He doesn’t like burdening us,” Um Muhammed says sadly. “But his handicap is, sadly, an obstacle.” All Muhammed wants is a project such as a cart from which he can sell tea and coffee to passersby on the street.

“It hurts to see my kids jobless and uneducated,” says Nedal. “They stopped going to school because we can’t afford the expenses. They even tried to find jobs to support us, but in vain. My youngest daughter is the only one who goes to school.”

Also making it difficult for his children to learn is the lack of electricity for up to 20 hours a day, which leaves them in the dark. They can’t afford a generator to provide back-up power. Instead, however, they have received help through five solar-powered lights donated by the American nonprofit Rebuilding Alliance and distributed by Gaza’s Youth Vision NGO. The nur al-amal (light of hope) allows them to read and do chores in the evenings, when otherwise they would be plunged into darkness.

Um Muhammed says, “We are so thankful for those who bought such useful lights for us. Our home is finally full of light at night.”


 

Solar Replaces Candlelight for Gaza Family, Bringing Peace to a Mother’s Heart

When you live mired in poverty, every detail of daily life is a challenge. Abeer and Salah al-Akharsah, along with their seven children (and an eighth on the way), live in a remote area of the Gaza Strip—Eraiba, northwest of Rafah. Salah, 41, used to earn a decent income as a trader of goods transported through the tunnels connecting Gaza with Egypt.

'Light of Hope' Helps Girls Enjoy Nights Again

I was not prepared for what I found when I visited the al-Malalha family in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip. Their street was lightless, but the dim glow of the moon helped me see so I could walk without tripping. It was lined with farmland and greenhouses. Nothing could be heard but the sound of crickets.

Caring for the Deaf is El-Amal’s ‘Mission of Love’

Over the past 10 years, three wars waged on the Gaza Strip have had devastating effects on the population of 2 million in both large and small ways. Since the first war in 2008/09, says Hedaya Abu Lehia, a technician assistant at the El-Amal Audiology Clinic, Gaza has seen a 30 percent increase in hearing impairment. The reason, she reports, is the exposure to loud explosions.