Working through war

West Bank and Gaza, November 26, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Eyad Baba for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Reem Omran leads both the youth leadership program and the Arab Development Network Initiative, both of which provide training and job opportunities for young people in Gaza. During this month's conflict between Gaza and Israel, she gathered first-hand accounts from the young people she works with. Photo: Eyad Baba for Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Reuters/Ahmed Zakot, courtesy Thomson Reuters Foundation - AlertNet  </span>
    Palestinians walk past a destroyed building and a school, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Zakot, courtesy Thomson Reuters Foundation - AlertNet

November has been a big month, it had the happiest and saddest occasions together. The happiest day of my life was November 1st, my wedding day and the beginning of a happily-ever-after life with the man I love!

It was supposed to be our honeymoon when the war started just two weeks into our marriage. How difficult to feel that you might lose your life partner at any second after you just came together, or to have your new house destroyed before you even enjoy living in it. So many fears attacked my mind and heart with every sound of the bombings. They make your house shake and every time, you wonder if your family or friends are still alive.

Since we were recently married, we didn’t yet have all the basics in our house. My husband and I didn’t have our winter clothes that were still in our families’ homes; we didn’t have stored food in the fridge to eat or even blankets when it got colder. We were stuck in our new apartment at exactly the wrong time, unable to get things from our family or even take the risk to go to the supermarket nearby.

The first thing we did every morning after another sleepless night was check our bodies and ourselves: Are we really alive? Did we actually survive the night? Then we started a series of phone calls to our families, friends and colleagues. Although we knew we survived, sorrow filled our hearts for those who lost their families, kids, parents or even houses.

People weren’t prepared for a war, and like us, they didn’t have stored food or winter clothes and blankets for their kids. It was even harder for families who fled their homes that were close to borders or targets — some small houses had as many as 75 people inside. It was impossible to have enough food and blankets to go around.

Glass was one of the most dangerous things in everyone’s house, because it kept breaking with the continuous loud sounds of bombs. Everyone kept their windows open and moved their furniture so they didn’t sleep or stay close to any glass. But still, most of the windows in Gaza fell and a lot of people were injured because of it.

The power of love in all the people I know — people I work with in Mercy Corps and people I care for — overcame the fear that filled everyone’s heart in Gaza. It was time to ignore the threats and think about ways to serve people in Gaza. We all tried to assess the needs of people and respond to those needs.

I felt so proud of the youth leaders in our iYouth program in Gaza, who worked hard during these hard days to make their voices heard. They kept updating social networks like Facebook and Twitter with news about the reality in Gaza and communicated with people to assess their need to provide them with support.

READ MORE: Voices from Gaza

After eight days of war and sleepless nights full of fear, it was the happiest news when we heard about the ceasefire between both sides. It was a sign that we wouldn’t die that night, that we could close our windows and sleep on our beds again and not wake up every five minutes to more bombs.

Everyone was waiting for 9 p.m. on November 21. I was waiting impatiently as well, since I had not been out on the street for eight days, and I hadn’t seen my family who are only five minutes away from my house. I could hear the celebrations everywhere in the streets, everyone happy that war was over, and I rushed to go to my family’s house. It was a happy night, and I couldn’t wait for morning to rearrange my house and put everything back in its place. But I could not stop feeling sad for those who lost their husbands, wives, parents or kids — their wounds will not recover in a million years.

Now we know the size of the catastrophe the war left, and we will go back to work with a new agenda. All of the Mercy Corps programs will adjust plans to respond to this emergency situation and ease the pain of the people and help them according to their needs…the response in Gaza has just started.