Gaza crisis: Responding to suffering

People waiting outside a mobile health clinic set up by CARE and local partner organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) at a primary school in Gaza city © CARE / PMRS

The destruction and suffering in Gaza is heartbreaking, but the work of CARE and our partners is already making a huge difference, writes René Celaya, CARE’s director for West Bank and Gaza.

Gaza City, 18 August 2014: Before I visited Gaza, I thought the images I had seen in the media had prepared me for the destruction and suffering I would see. But actually standing in front of a building that had been destroyed was still overwhelming.

But what really surprised and inspired me was the strong determination expressed by Gaza residents to get on with their lives even though they have been through so much. CARE can help by providing health services, but the problem is the environment in which people are living.

Pregnant women are at particular risk. They have to give birth in shelters, without sanitation, and no vaccines for the child. A lot of pregnant women are suffering from anaemia, which makes them very vulnerable in this situation.

And with so much of the government health service having been destroyed and what’s left overwhelmed by people injured by the war, there is no capacity to treat people with other acute health problems or chronic diseases. To rebuild the health services, buildings and infrastructure, and provide opportunities for people to begin to support themselves again, is going to take a long time and require fundamental changes. That job needs to start as soon as there is a lasting ceasefire.

I went with one of the mobile health teams run by CARE and our partner organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) to a primary school where 2,400 people are sheltering. It was great to see the services they are able to provide, but they cannot help everyone. One doctor examined a young girl with leukaemia. She had been discharged from the hospital because they could not provide necessary care. The question was how to support her and her family during her last days.

There is the suffering we see from the bombs, and there is so much suffering we don’t see.

Through all this tragedy, I was struck by the incredible resilience of the people of Gaza: their ability to endure, recover and get on with life. When their houses have been bombed, they go back to recover whatever they can: clothes or a piece of furniture they can sell.

Now there is a ceasefire and they don’t know if there will be more rockets, but children are playing in the streets. During the war, the children would hear a rocket exploding, but they wouldn’t run. They’re so used to it. This is the norm in Gaza.

One image that will stay with me was a picture from a birthday party during the fighting. A family that had been displaced from their home had decided to have a party even though the city was being hit by rockets. In the picture, they were all sitting around a birthday cake. While I was in Gaza, I also saw a wedding party. People have to continue with life.

CARE is doing what we can to support them with emergency medical services and to recover their lives and livelihoods once there is a lasting ceasefire. We work closely with local partner organisations, among them PMRS.

They told me they appreciated CARE’s support – the fact that we’re not taking their place, but supporting them. They feel respected, not replaced.

Having worked with CARE before the latest crisis, they felt better prepared for their response. They have learned from us about operations and strategic issues, especially about the livelihood approach and gender issues. They understand better the different needs of women, men, boys and girls.

This is how CARE wants to assist. We bring our expertise and global experiences to local partners and work with them to help the women, men, boys and girls of Gaza achieve greater self-reliance, sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.