I’ve been in Gaza 36 hours but it feels like much longer and I am incredibly sad to be leaving tomorrow.
Yesterday I was numb I think, maybe even purposely. There are pieces of hope, but visiting families in their homes and seeing the squalor and lack was awful.
I’m not a development officer or a hardened photo journalist. I’ve not been doing this for years. I’ve never been anywhere like this before regardless of the fact there aren’t many places like this. I’m a woman who picked up a camera a few years ago, likes to mess around on the internet, likes to play with words and talk with people…and yet here I am. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to be here but I can’t shake that feeling someone is having me on.
But here I am. Today we visited Al Ahli hospital, run by Christians to serve all people, to see the Medical Mission project. The purpose of the project is to provide transport to bring people in from the refugee camps and other areas that were obliterated by the wars, especially the 2014 event and t give them a wide range of treatment and education. I haven’t been to their homes and won’t get to visit on this trip but I’ve seen pictures and spoken to people who live in what amount to shipping containers. They have no healthcare options at all in the area they live.
Again, I can’t really give away the stories of the people I met, but I am really, really proud of the difference Embrace supporters are making to these most vulnerable people.
I watched as a little boy had his burns bandages changed. I listened to a grandmother emotionally describe how her grandson really needs help because he isn’t growing; all they have to eat and drink is flatbread and tea. I listened to a mother being given advice as to how to feed one of her triplets whose health is waning. I talked to the head of the hospital about the hope they have to increase an oncology department bringing much needed education, diagnosis and treatment options to a population where breast cancer is still almost always a death sentence.
While I’m on the subject, my Embrace colleague and friend Su is running the Palestine half marathon in April to raise funds for Al Ahli. She has had treatment for breast cancer this past 12 months and is inspirational in her dedication to help others less fortunate when it comes to treatment options. Her Justgiving page is here.
After a few much needed hours of downtime, we visited Fr Mario at the Latin patriachate. Fr Mario is a Catholic priest in Gaza. We spoke at length about the Christian population in Gaza, what it is like to be a Christian here, what his job entails and much more. I will tell his story at length another time but I had to hold back tears repeatedly as he described the very real dangers he faces, the isolation he feels and the desperate situation the Christians he serves are in.
Embrace’s mission is to support Christians in the Middle East who are serving people here who are marginalised and vulnerable. Fr Mario provides a place and a ministry for those Christians to find support and solace with their brothers and sisters in Christ. With less than 1200 Christian in Gaza, which has a population of 1.8million (probably more), feeling part of the church, locally or more is almost impossible. I feel isolation tangibly as Fr Mario talks.
Fr Mario is originally from Brazil and has been via Rome (where he worked in the parish containing Mafiosa) and is in his 3rd year in Gaza. He talked of imprisonment, arson, having drugs planted in his car and what it was like to be heading back in to Gaza in 2014 as the war started while many others fled. I was floored by his humility and selflessness as he talks about himself and the people he serves. I was struggling to comprehend how he was still standing at all, when he described how he has asked to be transferred to Aleppo but didn’t expect to be allowed to go. He shrugged and said, “we must go to the places no one else wants to go.”
A lot of people didn’t want me to go to Gaza, they were understandably concerned. But I am very glad I came and I wish I could stay longer to see more, meet more people and talk with them. I haven’t felt unsafe, I haven’t felt threatened. Everyone looks at us because it’s relatively unusual to see a couple of pasty Brits walking around with notebook and cameras not blending in in the slightest, but they all say ‘hello, welcome, why are you here?’ When we explain we’re hoping to help people in the UK and beyond hear the stories of people in Gaza and the Middle East they start to talk and don’t stop.
Tomorrow we head back to Jerusalem for a few days to meet more partners. I’m excited about that too but I really do wish we could stay here a little more.