Heat Them Up: Keeping Gazan families warm this winter
Two years ago, Wisam Bashir, a 23-year-old car wash manager from the town of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, received a message on his Facebook account from a local widow asking him whether he had any customers who were able to contribute their old blankets. It was a strange request, but the message led Wisam to launch an initiative called Heat Them Up In Winter, to help struggling families in the Gaza Strip.
"The idea came to my head after this message. During that same winter, I began collecting more blankets from my neighbours, washed and cleaned them then distributed them to impoverished people in the town," he tells The New Arab.
Over the past 11 years, Israel has imposed a siege on Gaza. According to the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, the poverty rate stands at 55 percent among Gaza's two-million residents. Sixty five percent of Gaza's labour force are rendered jobless, while 80 percent of the population relies on regular food aid, provided by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
"After talking about the initiative on social media, I began receiving phone calls and Facebook messages from people who wanted to contribute," Wissam continues.
"Over the past few months, I have collected around 150 blankets from the northern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip. These will go to impoverished households around the region."
Husband and wife, Misleh and Rae'qa, expressed their joy at receiving their blankets.
In the western parts of Deir al-Balah, Misleh and Rae'qa have been living in one room with their six children for the past seven months.
Misleh and Rae'qa with their children [Rami Almeghari]
The eight member family have experienced hard moments. Their 'kitchen' is only a gas stove in a small corner inside the same room they sleep, and their bathroom is located just outside the room.
"The window to our room has been smashed after our town was hit by Israeli warplanes three weeks ago," the 36-year-old impoverished father tells The New Arab.
He speaks of the difficulties in finding work to fend for his young family.
"I worked in the building sector but around four years ago, a brick fell on my head causing me some health complications. This has prevented me from getting by normally," Misleh tells The New Arab while surrounded by his children, the eldest of whom is 10-year-old Awad.
Ra'eqa adds that their life inside the single-room home has been extremely terrible and that she had no choice but to remain patient, but remarks on how initiatives like Heat Them Up In Winter are important in helping them get by.
As the initiative began growing, so did the variation in items. Apart from blankets, Wisam was able to collect hundreds of pieces of clothing, again washed and then distributed to local impoverished people in the vicinity of Deir al-Balah, as well as essential food items.
|Wisam carries blankets to Misleh's house [Rami Almeghari]|
Wisam also works with local NGO Aysha, providing seminars on fighting violence against women and children.
"I do hope that my initiative spreads far and wide in a more organised way in the Gaza Strip," he says.
"I look forward to bigger NGOs or traders across the territory adopting such an initiative during a time when economic conditions in Gaza are becoming worse," Wisam tells The New Arab, as he distributes blankets to poor households in his local town.
"I do not believe that my situation will change soon as I have some health complications that prevent me from working," Misleh adds.
"I can only but thank Wisam and other helpful people like him around our town who work to help make our difficult lives just that little bit better."
Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza.
Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari