Feb 8: A beautiful place

9 year old K is on the right with the blue backpack on her chair

9 year old K is on the right with the blue backpack on her chair

Before the strikes, the group 14 Friends of Palestine asked E and me to make contact with a little girl they sponsor via Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children. It’s taken a while for us to catch our breath and follow this up, but we got there today. We followed our usual pattern; meeting at Al Shifa hospital, grabbing a falafal sandwich, then striding off down the dusty streets ignoring all the beeping taxis that want to drive us (shared taxis are as close as Gaza gets to public transport.)

20 minutes later, I am startled by the wholeness of the Atfaluna building. Several of the buildings nearby are in small concrete pieces, but Atfaluna has grass, Atfaluna has windows. I doubt Israel avoided Atfaluna deliberately, since they bombed schools and hospitals, so Atfaluna also has good luck. Inside, we meet S, our initial contact, who has arranged for us for K’s social worker M to take us to visit her family. They live in Shayjaiee, in four rooms – K’s parents, and their 7 girls (born in a row), followed by 4 boys, the last one a smiley 5 months.

K’s mum S is a friendly woman, who tries mostly in vain to coax her girls, just home from school, to appear for us in anything other than shyly giggling glimpses, though we do eventually manage a photo with some of them. She manages to introduce us to two of the little boys with the lure of the arabic sweets we’d brought. We ask her how the Israeli strikes had affected them; she says they stayed in their home for the first ten days but the rocket attacks then became too close and frightening and they moved in with their downstairs neighbours, that being the only place they had to go.

K's mum S in the kitchen

K's mum S in the kitchen

The bread shortage has hit them hard, she says, describing bargaining for a bag of flour and being 20 shekels (about £3) short. A wave of guilt hits me; if only we had got to see them before the attacks, they would have had the equivalent of K’s dad’s salary for a month (he’s a cleaner) that we are bringing them today from 14 Friends of Palestine. S, apparently not giving this a moment’s thought herself, cheerfully says they did manage to get the flour after all in the end, and I remind myself the bread shortage continues, and the money is just as welcome now.

K's family in the girls' bedroom

K's family in the girls' bedroom

K’s home is very simple, they don’t have much, and when we ask S what the donation might go on, it’s clear they will carefully keep themselves in the basics for the children to be well and comfortable: mattresses, floor mats, food, clothes, gas maybe. J from 14 Friends of Palestine said we could use our discretion as to whether to buy the family things or hand over the donation itself, and it’s clear to us that the family will know better what they need than we will and use it wisely. Also at J’s suggestion, we’ve kept a little money back to buy some unnecessary things for the children that we think K’s parents might feel they shouldn’t buy with it themselves, so we’ll be back another day with the rest of the donation and maybe things like coloured pens, drawing books… we’ll see what’s available that looks like it will last a series of small hands.

E heads off to see if 18 year old Abd at Al Wafa is managing to imagine some sort of life for himself in a wheelchair yet. Back at Atfaluna, I am taken in to meet K, in amongst a class full of beaming kids. She leaps from her chair, glowing at finding herself the centre of attention. M signs to her that we come from Jane and 14 friends, and have met her family. She introduces herself to me with her sign name, a curving stroke of her finger from her forehead to her cheek, imitating the sweep of her dark curly hair. I am pleased to be able to return the sign name I was given once, the placing of an imaginary hat on my head (I like hats.) I meet also her sister S, also deaf, a calm 14 year old, smiling in her own more restrained class.

Then I am taken down to the kindergarten class, in a series of green carpeted rooms that imitate a lush outdoors that Gaza city children don’t see, except here where there are also gardens outside. They also bubble over with enthusiasm for a visitor, and I learn the Palestine sign for salaam aleikum. Surrounded by energetic and joyful small people, I realise what incredibly expressive faces and bodies deaf children can develop, with space and permission to move, from supportive teachers, many of whom are deaf themselves. Next I go to see some of the traditional craftwork the adults who work here produce.

This place is amazing. For the first time ever, I am seeing what Palestinians look like when they are surrounded by beauty: by art, by books and resources, by unbroken, unbombed, undamaged, working things. It makes me want to cry. (Currently a lot of random stuff makes me want to cry; I didn’t cry for any of those broken, bombed, damaged children in my ambulance and I guess that sadness is waiting somewhere deep.)

That makes me think of the modern sweeping design of the Jabalia Red Crescent building. I saw the Jabalia building before Israel fired shells at it, when it was new and whole like Atfaluna. It still works, only one room is burnt out. But now it looks like everything else in this place. Big shell holes, smaller bullet holes. Blackened patches.

300 children are studying at Atfaluna. 150 are on the waiting list. While it continues to stay in one piece, they will grow up with a vision that hearing Gaza children will simply have to imagine; what the world looks like when it isn’t all dust and crumbled concrete.

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14 Responses to Feb 8: A beautiful place

  1. A Vawda says:

    Hi hope u wel its so interstng 2 know that there are places stil functiong after al the bombng a vawda south africa

  2. Jane Jewell says:

    You have no idea how thrilled I was to see a picture of K and to read about your visit to her and her family. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for doing this.
    I was thrilled to know that the Atfaluna School is OK, and that the children there still know how to smile, after everything they have been through.
    It was wonderful to see the picture of her mother and siblings too, but how does the poor mother cope producing meals for a family of 13 in that terrible kitchen?
    Even without the recent bombings, that kitchen vividly shows how much these refugees are suffering – people whose families have been in refugee camps now for over 60 years.
    Once again, a million thanks for visiting K for me and taking her the money. I was so pleased to read that K was “glowing at finding herself the centre of attention”. As one of eleven children, I don’t suppose that happens very often!
    Jane Jewell

  3. C says:

    A beautiful posting, thanks. Doesn’t fun and pleasure and hope flourish in the most unexpected places. x

  4. aisha says:

    Salam alaykum to all my muslim brothers and sisters in palsetine and to all the dedicated aid agencies who help out their.

    My thoughts are with you all in these times. I have been in Gazza amongst the bombing during the intafada a few years ago. Lived without Gas and electric and running water. Hearing the childrens cries not to mention how terrified my family own family were as we were there to visit family. The first experience of bonbing has left my one daughter scared for life and she was there just to visit. Unlike thoses poor children women and men who have to hear it constant and live it day in day out. Subhanallah how they have the strengh to go on. I wish i had one ounce of what thry have. I wish i could take away their pain and their suffering and allow them to live in a peace free world without any suffering. Inshallah we can all help in anyway possible to rebuild their lives, their homes , their schools their hospitals and not to mention their buisnesses. I would love to be able to go as an aid worker and help thoses people to the best eay i can inshallah.
    May allah (swt) keep you all strong and safe inshallah ameen

    • Rifat-gaza says:

      alsslamalykum
      sister aisha iwill be very happy to help you if you need any thing from gaza .
      and i will be very happy if the addministrator team of this page send me the email address of aisha or send my email address to her
      thank you very much for your working for palestine

  5. Kenneth Ring says:

    I very much appreciated your blog on the Atfaluna school. I also sponsor a deaf child there but this was the first time I was able to see photos of the school. Your report was certainly heartwarming, and I thank you and E. for the wonderful and brave work you are doing to help bring the realities of life –and death — in Gaza to your readers.

  6. annie says:

    thank you for all that you do. what a beautiful heartwarming post.

    peace and solidarity and hold strong.

  7. Emm Sharpe says:

    Thankyou for giving us an insight to these families lives. How heartwarming to see that amongst so much misery and hopelessness there are still people who smile and have some hope. Thank you for all that you are doing my heart goes out to all the Deaf children there and their families.

  8. Edith Cacciatore says:

    How pleased I was to read about your visit to K and her family and to hear that she is all right. Thank you so much for all the good work you are doing.

    Warmest regards,

    Edith Cacciatore

  9. Chris says:

    Nice one, thanks a lot great piece. Good to see things continue.

  10. Rifat-gaza says:

    alsslamalykum for every one.
    thank you very much for this work.
    if any one need any thing from gzg i will be very happy to help any one
    best wishes

  11. Netty Kahan says:

    Dear Khitam

    I’d like you to know that a little part of the contribution sent to you came from a Jew who lost a dear family member to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2003. I am so anguished and sorrowful about the actions by Israel and the stance the U.S. has taken, and I am trying and learning to work on changes for peace.

    My mother is a concentration camp survivor and my family has lost so many relatives to fighting in Hebron in the ’20s and the pograms. I was brought up to recognize the sameness of myself and people of all religions and
    races; and I hate to see Palestinians suffering in the ways Jews have suffered. I believe that the stalemate of Palestinian righteous anger and Jewish fear must be bridged by compassionate listening and understanding (as the Bereaved Parents Circle does), not by war.

    My heart goes out wishing you safety, health, and well-being.

    Netty Kahan

    Novato, California

  12. Pingback: finding Khitam: Gaza Ramadan day 26 « In Gaza

  13. AMIR HAMEED says:

    Memorandum of
    Understanding
    For Mutual Coordination
    Pakistan Hard of Hearing association
    Pakistan Hard of Hearing association is a prestigious association for deaf and mutte individuals in Pakistan. We are on our way to the heights of social, socio-economic and academic programs for deaf community.
    Development of international network and relations for the sake to EMPOWER THE WHISPER of hard people of both countries.
    2. We will work at different platforms as individuals, groups and nations to get support from Govt. Officials, Business Community and from Social Activists for educational, social and economic issues of our cultural (lingual) community.
    3. We will stay in touch and in motion to achieve afore said vision.
    We are committed and pray to God Almighty to grant us strength and opportunities on our way to prosperity. (Amen)of hearing community, defining new terms and conditions to benefit and improve day to day life is the agenda of our association.
    We commit our passion by this written piece of Memorandum of Understanding for Mutual Coordination that:
    1. We will avail and share each and every possible source and resource for social, academic and economic uplift of hard of hearing

    AMIR HAMEED
    (President)
    President.phha@hotmail.com
    sms +923217606853

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