Dreams shattered: A bleak future awaits Gaza’s children

Amid an unprecedented escalation in Gaza, Shahin Ashraf, Islamic Relief’s head of global advocacy, revisits the findings of a report on the dire situation facing Gaza’s young people.

3 years ago, on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, Islamic Relief launched the report ‘Dreams on hold.’ It focused on youth unemployment and a mental health crisis among young people in Gaza.

Through speaking to young Palestinians, we came to understand the sense of hopelessness many felt when contemplating their future, as occupation and blockade had put their dreams indefinitely on hold.
Today, the situation in Gaza has become even more desperate. More than 14,800 lives have been lost since the unprecedented escalation began in early October, and a significant majority of those killed have been children.

With no end in sight to the hostilities, the dreams young people spoke of in the report are no longer just on hold; they have been heartbreakingly obliterated.

We have no idea when the long-term impacts of the current escalation will become clear, right now people in Gaza are simply struggling to survive. However, there is little doubt that the psychological and economic challenges for young people will be immense.

In this context, we revisit some of our findings from the 2020 report to highlight the desperate situation in Gaza, and once again emphasise the need for a permanent ceasefire.

No escape from poverty and hopelessness

When we first commissioned the report, the challenges young people faced were already immense, with Gaza’s youth unemployment rate standing at 70%.

The relentless grip of poverty and the shadow of mental health challenges loomed large over the people of Gaza. Decades of occupation and recurrent bombing had forged a seemingly inescapable connection between endemic poverty and the pervasive struggles of mental health. The burden was staggering, as studies revealed that over 68% of adolescents had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while a staggering 95% grappled with severe anxiety.

The toll on the mental wellbeing of young people was heartbreaking. Depression, like a heavy fog, enveloped their lives, pushing some to the brink of despair, and even to the point where death seemed like the only escape. This generation was in limbo, unable to dream of a future due to political and socioeconomic challenges.

Despair, frustration and depression

When speaking to young people, we found striking similarities in their experiences. The challenges of everyday life under blockade weakened community ties, while a struggling healthcare system contributed to a severe mental health crisis.

“Despair, frustration, and depression is very common among graduates. I have felt all of these things since I graduated,” Salman, a 26-year-old from Gaza told us.

Meanwhile Abdallah linked a collective feeling of hopelessness to the situation the people of Gaza live in, saying: “We’re a people under occupation. We feel failure while hunger and unemployment rise.”

The direct link between political circumstances and economic hardship was made even clearer listening to stories of people like Reham, who secured a job in Türkiye, only to lose it when the closure of crossings in and out of Gaza made it impossible for him to reach work.

Financial insecurity can massively impact a person’s physical and mental wellbeing and these conversations reinforced this intersection of poverty and mental health challenges. These were not just academic observations, but lived experiences – a daily struggle against despair, frustration, and the suffocating weight of persistent hardship that all people in Gaza face.

Empathy and understanding

The perspectives shared in the report emphasised the pressing need to attend to not only the physical needs, but also the emotional wellbeing and welfare of the people of Gaza. The call for empathy and understanding is imperative, as is the commitment to breaking the chains that perpetuate a cycle of poverty and mental health challenges.

Over the past 7 agonising weeks, a complete disregard for international humanitarian law has unfolded, leading to the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1948—a heart-wrenching exodus laid bare before our eyes. This is more than a mere geographical upheaval; it’s a profound disruption of lives, forcing people to abandon the very essence of their existence; their homes.

Within this upheaval, there is an emotional resonance, with individuals being compelled to revisit unendurable traumas from the past. The scars of history, left unhealed, cast a long shadow over the younger generation, burdening them with the unspoken traumas endured by their ancestors or parents.

What can we do to help?

Amid the harrowing escalation in Gaza, many traumatised children find themselves in a perpetual state of motion. Faced with the grim reality that even hospitals and schools have been hit by bombs, they are compelled to embark on arduous journeys in search of safety.

This relentless search, coupled with the realisation that nowhere is immune from the ravages of this escalation, places an immense strain on the mental health of all of Gaza’s people, including the young. The profound impact of this perpetual insecurity underscores the urgent need to address the mental health crisis in a community where sanctuary is elusive.

A permanent ceasefire is urgently needed to save lives and ensure an unimpeded flow of vital supplies into Gaza, preventing people from suffering further hunger and thirst. The international community has the power to initiate life-saving efforts in Gaza without delay.

In the heart-wrenching saga that is Gaza’s plight, each traumatised resident bears a name, an identity, with dreams and hopes that refuse to be extinguished. In the face of adversity, these dreams persist, flickering like fragile flames that resist being snuffed out. Their resilience is a testament to the indomitable human spirit, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that their dreams not only endure, but flourish in the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

The urgency lies not just in providing immediate relief but in keeping the stories of Palestinians alive. Young people, resilient witnesses to this upheaval, embody the enduring hope for Gaza’s future. Our responsibility is to listen to them, to amplify their voices in the face of their desperate plea to the world. They strive against their own dehumanisation, trying to communicate their harrowing plight, yet the world persists in treating them as expendable, reducing them to mere statistics—people unjustly deemed unworthy of lives and dreams.

This is a call to action, a plea for empathy, and a commitment to rebuilding shattered dreams and the promise of a better tomorrow. The initial report, Dreams on Hold, aimed to preserve at least a semblance of hope. Yet, what remains now are shattered dreams—a stark reminder of the urgent need to address the escalating crisis in Gaza.

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

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.