Food assistance in Gaza, a lifeline
Living in Gaza is hard, and being a single mother in Gaza is even harder. Assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) is more valuable for Raeda and her children than one would think.
We all have responsibilities, but Raeda’s are more than she can cope with. Like everyone in Gaza, this 35-year-old mother is up against a very difficult humanitarian situation. Only, she’s in it alone, having to provide for her seven children aged between 9 and 17.
Overwhelmed with debts, Raeda’s husband abandoned the family and moved out of Gaza eight years ago. She was left to deal with his creditors who knocked on her door almost every day for an entire year. To Raeda’s despair, none of the money he had borrowed had been for the benefit of the family.
Married at the early age of 18, she spent her prime years raising her young children. There was no reason for her to acquire skills or work experience as her husband provided for them. Until suddenly, her homemaker’s life was shattered when she found herself with the heavy burden of raising her children alone. Her only option was low-paid and low-skilled jobs — mostly as a cleaning lady in private houses or nurseries — once or twice per week.
Trapped in a circle of poverty, Raeda had almost been exclusively relying on credit and charity from relatives and friends to secure the bare minimum — groceries, clothing and schooling.
Keeping the family afloat
Six years ago, Raeda started receiving WFP food assistance that helped her put food on her children’s table. However, the sharp degradation of the humanitarian situation in Gaza over the past two years pushed her two eldest sons, 15 and 17, to quit school and start working.
“Giving my children an education and a chance for a better future had always been the driver of my existence,” she says. “Now I have now become a burden for two of them.”
Her boys work as porters up to three days a week — transporting rubble for 2 to 3 dollars a day. She uses most of the money to repay the family’s debts, and with whatever is left she buys food to complement WFP’s assistance.
Since the beginning of last year, Raeda has been receiving her WFP’s food assistance through an electronic card she can use in local shops. Every month, the family receives a credit of US$ 80, with which they have to make do.
“As my children grow, they need to eat a greater variety of foods, including dairy products that I can now buy fresh at a nearby shop,” she says. “We only have electricity for a few hours a day, so I cannot waste my voucher on food that will go bad without a fridge. I go to the shop regularly to buy food that we will eat immediately and I do not have to worry about how I will store it.”
With a limited budget, Raeda now carefully chooses the cheapest foods and brands, including canned meat or fish so she doesn’t have to spend money on cooking gas that has become too expensive.
“Life without the food voucher is unthinkable! At least I can keep my other children in school.”
WFP’s support is a lifeline for the family whose other resources have steadily been declining. “Life without the food voucher is unthinkable! At least I can keep my other children in school,” she says.
Raeda is one of the 250,000 people WFP assists in Gaza. Around twenty percent of the families assisted by WFP in the enclave are headed by women who have been either divorced, widowed or abandoned. This segment of the population is among the most vulnerable and marginalized, and the most affected by the humanitarian and economic crises prevailing in Gaza.
Electronic food vouchers empower vulnerable populations to manage their budget, go shopping whenever they need to and as often as they want, without having to carry the entire month’s entitlement home. This restores a sense of normalcy and stability, which can foster self-growth and empowerment.
“ Everyday, I hope and pray for a brighter future. So far, the continuation of WFP’s support has helped me keep faith,” she says.
In 2019, WFP is appealing for US$60 million to help vulnerable Palestinians across Gaza and the West Bank meet a share of their food needs.