As terrified children fled the warplane, my desperate cat outran them all

Unable to find food for his children or his family pet an Islamic Relief aid worker* describes the heart-breaking exhaustion of civilian life in Gaza, where even playing hopscotch means risking death.

These few days since my last blog have been very hard. As I write, the sound of shelling in the background is non-stop.

We are living in the same tragic situation, surrounded by death and fear. I see pictures of families torn apart, of houses demolished, of men taken hostage, of people uprooted from their homes, and of dead children.

I am trying to think of any possible way to save my family, but I do not see hope. No light at the end of this darkness.

I want to leave Gaza as soon as possible. But I do not have dual nationality. No state wants to save me or my family. No country in the world would accept us as refugees. No one cares about any Palestinians in Gaza.

Children risk their lives just to play in the streets of Gaza

Nobody in the world cares about Palestinian children, my children, being deprived food and water, being deprived of play. Yes, hard as it might be to imagine, my dear readers, our children cannot play. Even before this latest nightmare, Gaza had little to offer children in terms of playgrounds – but the kids played happily in the streets. Now, they’ve lost even this, as I saw with my own eyes yesterday when my kids and the neighbours’ kids – about 30 or 40 children – gathered in our street.

The girls draw a hopscotch game and the boys brought an old football. The street sprang to life with the wonderful hubbub of children at play. Suddenly, an airplane screamed in the sky. Every child ran for their life, scrambling to get indoors. As I made sure everyone got inside, I noticed our cat running the fastest, and jumping up and across the children’s shoulders to save his life.

In the house, there is little to do. My brother managed to get a Monopoly board and showed the older children how to play it. They spend hours playing – that game never ends. They also get to watch some cartoons on my daughter’s tablet, powered thanks to our solar panel. Their favorite thing to do is stay awake all night talking, enjoying a girls’ night together. But that rarely lasts long, as bombing and airstrikes intensify overnight.

Why are Nutella, salami, and salt banned?

The younger kids feel bored, especially as their older siblings and cousins want their own space and a break from the little ones who don’t understand the games or nag at them. My daughter is only 8, but she’s managed to get herself a place with the older kids – they always include her in their gatherings.

But my son is younger and more of an introvert. He is constantly with me and his mother. And when he gets bored, as he does every night, he starts asking for food. So he goes to his mum, asking for a sandwich, speaking in the classic Arabic that he learned from dubbed cartoons. It’s funny: most of the kids in the house now talk the same way as my son – he has got all of them speaking like him.

However much he asks for food, we have none to give – including and especially bread for sandwiches. I encourage him to go play with the other children, but he insists he wants to play video games instead. He spends lots of time playing video games. Worried about his eyes, my wife tries to get him to stop, and we push him to play with the other children to develop his social skills.

But still, at night he wants food. His favorite is Nutella, but finding this sweet treat in Gaza is nowadays like finding a diamond. His second-best thing is salami, which is also impossible to get here anymore. Strange, I keep saying, why these items are not allowed into Gaza? How would that affect Israel’s war? Why is salt not allowed? Maybe because it would give some taste to the bitter life that we live?

I can’t explain hunger, even to our cat

It is a sad reality that I can’t provide my family with food – not because I don’t have money, but because there is no food. The markets are empty. I can’t explain that to my children. Not even to the cat.

When we adopted the cat, we promised the vet who gave him to us that we’d take good care of him. And we have tried: My mum and sisters treat him as a member of the family, he eats with us and stays with us. Some of the children were afraid of animals, but now they all carry the cat and cuddle him. Everybody tries to feed him with whatever is available.

He was used to eating canned and dry cat food. Now, whatever he finds, he eats. As we live in a rural area there are plenty of flies and insects that he chases all day. I have never seen him catch any of them, but as a young cat, he is still trying. He hasn’t given up.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence


We humans are so tired. We are resilient, but we can’t bear any more of this unfair situation in which we’re forced to live. We are exhausted and hope to see an end to this war, which is heaping misery upon misery on mostly civilians.

Fighters are supposed to make every possible effort to avoid civilians, but in this war the heavy burden is laid on our shoulders. We have fled our homes, left all our belongings behind, lived without food, without water, without communication, we have lived in fear, in horror, and endured the tortures of the war. We had enough of all this. We want this to end now.

Please, my readers, put pressure on your governments to bring about an immediate and lasting ceasefire now.

Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned. Read the other blogs in this series here.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of 10 December 2023.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.