Families struggle to rebuild

Palestine (West Bank/Gaza)

September 25, 2014

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  • Ismail and his son Omar, 4, stand near the only entry to their home, much of which was damaged or destroyed during the recent conflict. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

Violence in Gaza has subsided, but overwhelming destruction remains. How do families recover from war when the walls that once made up their homes are no longer standing?

For Ismail, 31, and his family, rebuilding their home with whatever supplies they can find is the most important thing they can do — cold weather is right around the corner.

Ismail, his wife, and his two children — Omar, 4 and Kanari, 3 — live in a three-story building in the Al Zaitoun neighborhood just east of Gaza City. The recent fighting left much of their building destroyed, so Ismail hung cloth sheets in place of walls to protect his family.

After working through the conflict to meet urgent needs for food and water, our team in Gaza is now focused on helping families like Ismail's recover and rebuild.

We are distributing hygiene kits, filled with essentials like soap, towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and heavy tarps that families can use as temporary shelter materials.

“I will use one of the plastic tarps as a ceiling for my kitchen and will cover the damaged windows with the second tarp. Winter is coming!” said Ismail of the supplies he received from Mercy Corps.

Ismail picks up a hygiene kit and plastic tarps at a Mercy Corps distribution in his family's neighborhood near Gaza City. Photo: Assad El Saftawi for Mercy Corps

The seven weeks of conflict in Gaza were terrifying for Ismail’s family, especially his young children. “Every night we seem to think it is the worst night, until we go through the next one. The house shaking and moving from the consecutive blasts became normal — or we told our children this so they would not panic,” said Ismail.

“We did our best to make them feel safe in their own home. We had to pretend that everything was fine and that they will be safe as long as we are in our house.”

But then the neighbor's building was hit. “The force of the blast destroyed many neighboring buildings partially or fully including my family’s building,” Ismail said.

Ismail remembers hundreds of neighbors flooding into the streets with nowhere to go. The family ran until they couldn't run anymore and luckily found a house to shelter in for the night. When morning came, they were shocked by the destruction they saw all around them.

“Omar refused to go back to our house the next day. He was so scared from the scale of the destruction in the neighborhood. He kept repeating ‘This is not my house! This house is broken! My house is beautiful!’” recalled Ismail of his young son.

Even though the bombing has stopped, the needs of families in Gaza are still great. Many have lost their homes, their loved ones and any way to earn income. Young children are traumatized by their experiences and what they’ve seen.

Beyond providing emergency hygiene and shelter supplies, our team on the ground has established 20 clean water points and is now offering short-term employment projects to adults to help families like Ismail’s rebuild and recover.

It is also of utmost importance to help young children like Omar cope with what they’ve experienced. Our psychosocial sessions, which help children express their feelings and teach parents how to deal with signs of psychological stress, are continuing now that families are able to safely participate.

Ismail is appreciative of the help he's received for his family, but recovery will be a long process in Gaza. “We need to give children a protective environment...and find families homes to live in,” he said.

We will continue building on our three decades of work in Gaza to address these needs in the coming months, giving children safe places to heal, providing valuable rebuilding supplies and offering access to employment opportunities for vulnerable families in need.

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' emergency response work in Gaza and around the world. You'll help families survive this crisis and overcome the hardships they face in many of the world's toughest places. Donate today ▸