The first town you come to after crossing through the separation wall at Erez border crossing into the Gaza Strip is Beit Hanoun. At once you are confronted by a destroyed block of flats, all that remains of most buildings in this area are concrete slabs and shells of what were once buildings. When the Israeli military moved through the neighbourhood in July 2014, their intent was to remove all obstacles in their line of sight.
Imad’s (name changed) family home was one of those buildings. A two storey house in the middle of town, it still stands, but the first and second floors, destroyed in aerial raids, are still unliveable. Holes in the walls were artillery punched through the concrete are covered by blankets and tarps to protect Imad and his 19 family members, who all live on the ground floor, from the elements.
Thirteen-year-old Imad sits next to me in the ‘courtyard’ of his house. The reluctant centre of attention, he answers politely when questioned. Imad is the youngest of 10 children. As his mother is a Palestinian refugee, he attends a United Nations (UNRWA) school where his favourite subject is English. Imad’s passion however is for sport. He is a keen football player, bike rider (but he doesn’t have one) and swimmer, although he is not allowed to swim in the ocean – it’s too dangerous to be on the beach.
He is most animated though when he tells us about his photography project. Although the project is finished and the camera was damaged in the last war, Imad describes with enthusiasm the photos he took. He wants to become a photographer, and he would like a computer to help him edit and bring his dreams to life.
None of Imad’s family have stable work. When his father and older brothers are lucky, they get occasional day labour jobs, but with twenty people to feed there is never enough, ‘luckily’ says Imad’s Dad, his wife is a Palestinian refugee so they are entitled to food coupons and basic support from UNRWA.
Despite these extremely harsh realities, there is joy and hope in the faces of the family sitting around the courtyard. That hope has its roots in World Vision’s sponsorship program: the difference for Imad and his family is the support they have received from World Vision as a result of the funds available from Australian sponsors.
This support, over recent years has supported Imad’s family to pay school fees, purchase equipment and uniforms, and to cover Imad’s extra curricula activities, like photography. Imad’s father has attended a Job Creation course with a local agricultural corporation and had work experience with a local farmer. Imad’s mother has attended a Psychological First Aid (PFA) course, an essential skill to identify and help people (especially children) to cope and respond to traumatic events, such as war.
In the wake of the war, Imad attended a Child Friendly Space (CFS) where, with about fifty other children he enjoyed the dancing and games. Imad’s family received food coupons, toys, and hygiene and first aid kits. World Vision also provided food items to the UNRWA school where with about 5,000 other people Imad and his family sheltered for a month.
As we finish up our visit with Imad and his family, his dad says to us that if he could have anything, “I would like my son to be happy”. There is so much more that could be done in Gaza and for children like Imad.