My old school is now a scorching shelter for suffering families in Gaza

As an Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza returns to his high school, now a makeshift shelter, to take part in a distribution, he reports on the dire living conditions faced by families struggling to survive.

We are nearing the 270th day of this inhumane, brutal war. Living conditions have deteriorated and even the simplest tasks require huge effort. Water supplies are so scarce that little things like washing your face in the morning or boiling an egg feel like fantasies. Getting cooking gas has become a dream.

We’re now in summertime and the temperatures are rising a lot. It’s hard for us to stay in the house in this scorching heat – for people living in tents, it must be unbearable. There’s no escape from the heat, especially at night. Last night, my son was sleeping in a pool of sweat. He’s started to get rashes, which are even more difficult to look after when we don’t have enough water to bathe.

Again, I’m telling you, my dear readers, that this is not life, it is death. We’re not even close to living any kind of human life. Being deprived of our basic human rights should be unimaginable in the 21st century, yet it is livestreamed all over the world and seems as if no decision-makers care to help us.

Trash and tainted water fill the streets

As the situation worsens for everyone, Islamic Relief are doing all we can to help. A couple of days ago, I went with my colleagues to see some of the makeshift shelters where we are supporting displaced people.

I could only watch as we passed scenes of misery and suffering all around. The beautiful places where I used to live had turned into a dystopian setting with darkness and rubble everywhere. The streets are filled with trash. Trucks are no longer collecting rubbish because there is no fuel. I could see piles of it everywhere, especially near shelters and tents. There were also ponds of sewage and grey water near the camps.

These makeshift shelters were created quickly, without infrastructure, so there is no system for people to get rid of the water they’re using. It all ends up in one place, creating perfect conditions for the spread of disease and illness. In several places, I could see people making fires with wood. With so little fuel, fire is used for everything now – making a cup of tea, heating up beans, cooking pasta and rice, or even preparing formula for a baby. The fires are not only polluting the air but also the food, which ends up containing ash, smoke and dust. Imagine what it’s like for new mothers living in these conditions, for older people or people with disabilities.

My old school, transformed

We visited a school that is now a shelter. Coincidentally, it was my own secondary school, but it’s now completely different. Clothing hung at the windows of almost every classroom, drying in the sun. People have made partitions of sheets of cloth in the corridors. Small tents had been set up in the playground and all over the basketball court where I used to play as a high school student.

A piece of fabric is all people have to separate their space from one another’s. It’s the only way they can seek some privacy. There, families don’t have their own toilets: women, men, boys and girls all have to stand in line to use the toilet in the morning.

Women in Gaza dress modestly in public, but in the privacy of their home choose cooler attire. Women living in this shelter have no privacy however, so must face the scorching heat while fully covered. Changing their clothes and washing themselves is hugely challenging for them.

Our team was delivering vegetables at the school-turned-shelter. A man told me that it had been a long time since he’d been able to get any vegetables and he was overwhelmed knowing he’d be bringing some back to his family. These people used to get good food for their families, but now it’s a struggle to even get some vegetables. Land in Gaza is arable and productive, almost anything can be grown and harvested here, but much of the farmland has been destroyed now.

My father has a friend who lives in the south, in Khan Younis. Every year, we used to visit him there to get fresh extra virgin olive oil and spend happy times under the trees. He called recently and told me all his trees have been destroyed. For me, that was one more memory destroyed, but, for him, it was his entire livelihood gone. For no other reason than being Palestinian.

No less human

I’m telling you about a 2-hour-long field visit with my colleagues but living in this hell is indescribable. It is a burden that makes it difficult to even breathe. It is a punishment without reason. It is a violation of all our rights and of our humanity. Humanity, to me, is becoming something questionable.

My children are being deprived of their education and I’m being deprived of the ability to find good food for them. Deprived of the chance to return to my home, to take a shower, or even to get medicine for my mum.

We are no less human than anyone else. We are Palestinians and we deserve to live with dignity. But because the world is indifferent to our suffering, we are living a nightmare.

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 Tuesday 02 July 2024.

BROWSE OTHER OPINIONS

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.