Growing up in a crowded Gaza refugee camp

31 January 2012

31 January 2012
Gaza

“It’s my right to have a decent and healthy house. It is my right to live in dignity.”

Ten year-old Aya reads these words in her human rights textbooks as she prepares for exams. While studying, her younger brothers scream and run around her. Her mother washes and cooks in the same small room of 25 square metres.

“I can’t invite my friends to my house,” Aya explains. “I wish we could study together, but we don‘t have enough space to add another person. I wish I could have my own room."

Overcrowded and unsafe

For many of us, our homes are where we return for warmth, security, and peace. For Aya and the rest of the Al Lamadani family, their house is a source of misery, suffering, and sad memories. Cramped into the overcrowded refugee camp of Khan Younis, the family lives in a small shelter of three rooms built on top of each other. An unsafe iron ladder connects the rooms to each other.

“I have been living in this hell for 13 years, hoping that our condition will improve,” says Aya’s mother. “I lost a toddler who died instantly after falling from the top of the ladder. Another daughter fell down and is still suffering from head pain. My son broke his leg, and when I fell, I lost a four-month pregnancy.”

Aya’s father is a taxi driver, earning only 30 shekels per day to support his five children along with his widowed mother and two sisters. Since the Israeli blockade in 2007, unemployment in the Gaza Strip has skyrocketed. With limited income and overcrowding, the closure has sent Gazans deeper into poverty, unable to meet the needs of their growing families.

Blockade harming the children of Gaza

“My children are smart, but with our current living conditions, their grades at school are deteriorating,” says Aya’s father. “They are my treasure. I don’t want to lose them.”

Aya’s little sister stopped attending kindergarten after falling down the ladder from their room. Despite her parents’ assurances, she couldn’t be convinced to leave the room again by herself.

Through its relief and social services programme, UNRWA staff visited the family to learn about their living conditions and find out how to assist them. Today, the Agency has mobilised community support for the family, and a donor has agreed to pay rent for safer housing until a more permanent solution is found.

“I come from a poor family,” says Aya, “but it is not my fault, nor is it the fault of my parents.”

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