Where Hope Is Kindled

A clinic helps Gaza’s most vulnerable

by Hazem Balousha

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Shadia Daher had thought her days of childbirth were behind her. Five years had passed since the delivery of her ninth child, and the 39-year-old now suffers from a painful chronic illness affecting her chances of ever having children again.

But “God’s will is stronger than humans’ will. I am pregnant now.”

Mrs. Daher lives with her husband and seven of their children — four daughters and three sons — in a small two-room apartment in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shajaia. Their other two daughters, both married, live with their husbands.

Shadia Daher’s husband works as a construction worker and receives wages equivalent to about $10 a day.

“We receive food aid from a local civic organization,” she says, as the family’s income is “barely enough to live on.”

Nevertheless, Mrs. Daher is able to receive regular health care — including primary care in addition to pre- and post-natal services — through a CNEWA-supported clinic operated by the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) in Shajaia.

“I have visited this clinic for many years,” she says, adding that this clinic has provided care through all of her pregnancies. She regards it as a place of “care and respect.”

The Shajaia facility is one of the three N.E.C.C.-administered clinics providing medical services in densely populated, marginalized and impoverished areas of Gaza, considered one of the most densely settled population centers in the world. The council has a second clinic in the Al Daraj neighborhood and a third clinic in Khirbet al Adas, in the city of Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

Women in the Gaza Strip have long struggled for access to adequate health care in Gaza, but conditions worsened as a result of the blockade imposed on the region since 2007. As conditions deteriorate, shortages of food, medicine and other essentials have become the rule rather than the exception. Moreover, hundreds of women are deprived of traveling beyond the territory to receive adequate care for more serious needs.

According to international and local reports, the current situation in the Gaza Strip is the worst and most severe its population has seen — particularly among women, who bear a heavier burden.

Although considered the weakest link in wars and crises, women and children, particularly in Gaza, are dauntless sources of strength, hope and love. And institutions such as the clinics of the Near East Council of Churches work to shoulder some of their immense burden, to help keep that hope kindled.

In the Gaza Strip, the narrow coastal tract of land where poverty and unemployment are highest among the Palestinian territories, the physical and mental health of women and children suffer most from the effects of both poverty and unemployment.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (P.C.B.S.), women make up approximately 50 percent of the overall population in the Palestinian territory, and more than half are married. Women become widowed at about nine times the rate of men. A report prepared by P.C.B.S. reveals widespread poverty across the Palestinian territories, growing still more acute among families with a woman serving as head of household.

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