Three wars have been fought in Gaza since 2008, leaving thousands dead and many more battling with the emotional trauma of witnessing violence and destruction.
Recently, I met fourteen-year-old Asma'a and her sister Assenat, who live in the Gaza strip. Along with their mother Rewa'a, and grandmother Sabah, they told me about life for girls growing up in conflict.
Half the population of Gaza are children. Many have experienced conflict for a large part of their life and are battling with severe trauma and emotional distress.
Rewa’a told me that the war in 2014 has had a big impact on Asma’a and Assanet’s lives.
“The children were very scared. It was terrible, they couldn’t sleep most of the time.”
They targeted a location very close to here, some of the shelling fell nearby. We were concerned for our lives, we were living in fear”.
“Once there was an explosion very close by and Assenat fell from her bed from the force of the explosion.”
Assenat’s sister, Asma’a, was just 10 years old during the war, and she remembers her school building being used as a shelter for people whose homes were destroyed in the blaze.
I couldn’t go to sleep because of the bullets. Me and my friends used to ask each other if anything was damaged or affected.”
During the conflict in Gaza, nearly 300 schools were destroyed in 2014 alone, severely affecting children’s access to education - especially for girls, who are more vulnerable to gender based violence on the walk to and from school.
Moving around at night
Freedom of movement was also restricted during the conflict, and a night-time curfew made life more difficult for the family, said the girls’ grandmother, Sabah.
At evening time no one was allowed to move. You needed to prepare yourself during the day if you wanted to buy anything before.”
Since the war ended, the curfew has been lifted, but it has still been difficult for girls like Asma’a to visit their friends in the evening.
A system of checkpoints and closures are in force throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, and the area where Asma’a’s family live has poor infrastructure, with essential services often being neglected.
The family experience frequent power cuts in their home, and a year ago, there were no street lights in the area.
In the darkness, Asma’a would never leave the house.
Her grandmother owns a small shop near their home, but Asma’a was unable to visit her in the evenings as she was too scared to walk to the shop in the dark.
I am afraid of what is in the dark and being attacked by dogs I cannot see”.
Rewa’a saw a greater danger for her daughter at night. She explained the situation for women walking in areas without street lights.
“There are bad guys in the street, that might harm you. If you are going to walk it’s a problem. You can’t walk anywhere, you might be attacked or abused. I am very worried about Asma’a’s safety.”
Lighting up lives
ActionAid has been working in the occupied Palestinian territories since 2014. We provide emotional support for traumatised women and children, and have created women’s groups, to provide an opportunity for women to discuss their essential needs.
One of the issues highlighted by the group was the lack of security on the streets, and thanks to the community’s action, there are now 195 street lights in Asma’a’s area, powered by a generator that can work during power cuts.
Rewa’a says her children now feel safe enough to walk to their grandparents’ shop, and Sabah is pleased her granddaughter can visit in the evenings.
It is now more secure, especially for women, after the electricity. You can see the road. Now we are all moving around more freely.”
The street lights will have a positive impact on the girls’ education, as they feel safer making their journeys to school in the well-lit streets.
ActionAid has also provided the family with LED lights so that the girls can do their homework in the evenings during power cuts. Asma’a loves going to school and wants to be a dentist when she grows up.
How child sponsorship can help girls in conflict
In places like the occupied Palestinian territories, our child sponsorship programme helps to ensure that girls have food, shelter and education, and in the long term we are supporting whole communities to overcome the violence and discrimination faced by girls, to build a future where they can thrive.
With your help, we can transform the lives of girls like Asma’a and Assenat through child sponsorship.
This Christmas, please sponsor a child with ActionAid and change their life for good.