AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), through one of its long-time partners in the Gaza Strip, Al Najd Development Forum, is addressing housing needs for families whose homes were destroyed or damaged in July and August 2014 as part of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
According to the United Nations’ (U.N.) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 1.8 million people were left in need of basic shelter, health and food assistance. The U.N. reports that by mid-January, its housing-related funds were depleted, with an estimated 16,000 families still waiting for adequate housing.
MCC has programmed more than $700,000 in response to the crisis in Gaza, providing housing repair, emergency food assistance and hygiene kits and bedding.
MCC and Al Najd recently completed housing repairs for 20 families whose homes were badly damaged in the conflict, and is committed to doing the same for 50 additional families.
Al Najd is a community-based organization begun by women to provide programs and services for women and their families.
Many people, including young adults, are without work in Gaza. Al Najd is paying attention to that as it implements home rebuilding.
“Twelve young men are being trained in the skills of rebuilding homes,” said Joanna Hiebert Bergen, an MCC Palestine representative. “They accompany an engineer who inspects what each home needs. They learn how to work with window and door insulation, brick laying and how to do roofing.”
Al Najd also involves the families whose homes are being rebuilt, said Hiebert Bergen. One or more family members provide some of the labour in their own home’s rehabilitation.
Food assistance through MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and trauma healing training are other areas where MCC and partners continue to work. Here, too, the community is eager to help.
When MCC and Al Najd distributed food last August, volunteers showed up to Al Najd unsolicited. “It was unbelievable,” Dr. Raft Hassouna told Hiebert Bergen. Hassouna coordinates relief and development efforts for Al Najd.
“People came together, some of whom were living on the streets, galvanized to help with the food distribution,” said Hassouna. “People took risks for each other when shelling was still happening. People wanted to be busy and to show compassion to the most marginalized, even as many were marginalized themselves.”
Recovery efforts remain complicated by the continuing economic blockade of Gaza, which Israel began seven years ago.