Here in Gaza, every time summer comes round, I start thinking about where my kids will spend their time during the summer vacation. And this year has been no different.
As we’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’d been staying together at home.
However, as many organisations have gone back to work by putting in place additional safety measures, my wife and I had to once again think about where our children would spend their time during our working hours.
Covid-19 in Gaza: Easing lockdown
With the return of many services and lockdown pretty much over here in Gaza, we started sending our children to my in-law’s house so they could spend time with their grandparents and play with their cousins.
Our parents (may God give them health) are elderly and struggle to take care of two young children bursting with energy, running everywhere around the house. So, it’s not ideal.
Nurseries and childcare institutions have only just re-opened after lockdown. So, we had no choice but to send them to their grandparents’ house every morning and pick them up when we get back from work
It’s a dilemma that many working parents will understand!
With a lockdown of many weeks, many organisations here in Gaza have suffered — especially private sector organisations that depended on subscriptions and tuition fees for children in nurseries and primary schools.
Hundreds of nursery teachers who usually depend on monthly salaries to provide for their families lost their sole source of income during lockdown. Now, as protective measures are loosened a little, almost all facilities are reopening and announcing offers to attract customers and try to compensate for the financial losses they sustained during the lockdown.
Activities for children: Space to play and learn
Here in Gaza, many children are now attending special summer activities which usually involve “camps” of one sort or another. Except here, they don’t involve sitting out in the woods, building fires and setting up tents.
In Gaza, our camps are comprised of indoor activity centres where children can run around and take part in sporting activities. My friend Rami registered his children in one of the summer camps where his children spend their time there painting, making handcrafts and learning how to swim.
However, my children Yasmeena* and Khaled* are too young for this, so we had to take them to a local nursery instead. The first day we dropped them off, we received a great welcome from the women working there and we could tell the nursery teachers had really missed the children!
They had been happily preparing learning activities for the children after a long period of staying home. I was delighted, as during the long stay at home I am sure Yasmeena forgot everything she had learned at nursery.
In fact, she’d even started telling us that there would be no more nurseries in the future! We’d often laugh about this but the truth is, children have been through a huge change in their daily routine with the global pandemic and this has had a big impact on their psychological health.
Family fun: Managing difficult landscapes
The second place where children and families can enjoy themselves is the sea. This short strip of yellow sand along the Gaza Strip is surrounded by walls in all directions.
Nonetheless, it’s the first place to go to try to abandon the crowd of the city in Gaza. However, it comes with another downside…
The seawater has been polluted by excessive sewage dumped into the sea. Sadly, sewage water treatment plants have stopped working due to the shortage of fuel.
Local government services can’t run the treatments plants and instead dump untreated sewage water directly into the sea. This then negatively affects local marine life and residents.
When people want to go for a swim, they find that long parts of the seashore are not clean enough for swimming. The wealthier families rent closed chalets with a pool inside to enjoy swimming in non-polluted water.
However, the majority of families cannot afford to rent such places. Instead, they go to the polluted sea with their children, risking catching water-borne disease and endangering their health.
For many people though, the beach is very important as all along the seashore are lots of stalls selling everything you can imagine and offering services, such as making coffee, tea, renting tables and chairs tables, making grilled or boiled corn and selling swimming toys etc.
Many young people who started these small businesses are the victims of unemployment. They are often university graduates who simply could not find a more sustainable, prosperous job.
Moving past a pandemic: Facing the future
Here in Gaza, we’ve got the highest unemployment rate in the world. A staggering 54% of people are unemployed and youth employment is a particular challenge.
At the beach these people are trying in whatever way they can to earn a living, fighting off depression and the lure of religious extremism. This summer however, the season started late because of lockdown.
What’s more, officials have now started charging seller fees to allow these small businesses to operate, providing them services including water and electricity in exchange. Sadly though, some of them could not secure the relatively high price asked to carry out their work.
This is another hard blow for people trying to earn a living who’ve already suffered during the lockdown by losing their daily business. They are now anticipating hard times ahead as they try to make up for the financial losses of lockdown.
The seashore is like the window of Gaza to the world. People come to escape all of life’s hardship in this serene spot. However, this year was different.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our daily lives. Everyone is slowly witnessing and feeling the huge impact of the spread of the virus on the lives of residents, including society’s most vulnerable including children and families living in poverty.
Time will tell how things manage to recuperate. In the meantime however, people carry on in search of happiness and peace.
After all, summer is the season to be happy!
Islamic Relief has been providing humanitarian relief in Palestine since 1994, and is the largest independent humanitarian organisation on the ground in Gaza. You can contribute to our ongoing work in Palestine, by donating online here.
*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities