Tying the knot with Gaza's sponsored weddings

Tying the knot with Gaza's sponsored weddings
4 min read
16 June, 2016
Couples looking to get married in the Gaza Strip can now find support from NGOs, including the UAE-based Fataa, whose wedding programmes include sponsoring mass ceremonies and handing out grants.
This year, Fataa hopes to help 50 couples get married in Gaza [AFP]
Akram Alqarra is a 26-year-old man from the southern Gaza Strip, now running a stable and happy married life.

He is a father of a six-month-old baby girl, after he was finally able to get married last year, with the help of a grant provided by an NGO based in the UAE.

Alqarra and his wife were one of 200 young Palestinian couples from Gaza who benefited last year from a wedding funding programme provided by Fataa, an Emirates-based organisation which has also organised mass nuptial ceremonies in the embattled coastal enclave.

"Actually, without that grant of $4,000, I would not have been able to get married - or if I married, I would have regretted taking the step, amid harsh economic conditions in Gaza," he told The New Arab at his home in Khan Younis.

"In fact, if I would have to rely on my own savings out of my current work, maybe it would have taken me four or fice years before I take the step and get married."

Seeking support

Mahmoud Sheheibar and his fiancée, Samah Aljamallah, from the Thalathiny neighbourhood of Gaza City, the strip's capital, have been engaged for the past 10 months.

Yet with Mahmoud's $250 a month salary at the local purification facility, they're still waiting for their big day.

"Since Samah and I have decided that we should get married, as soon as we can, I began seeking some sponsorship, even partially, for the marriage ceremony. Actually, holding a marriage ceremony is quite costly, estimated at $2,000 at least," he said, sitting next to his fiancée, Samah, at his parent's modest home.

"Some local NGOs here provide a couple with half of the total costs for marriage, including the wedding ceremony and a banquet, with the couple paying the loan back in monthly instalments. But this is something that young men with low incomes cannot afford."

Standing on ceremony

Across the Gaza Strip, there are at least 18 NGOs that help provide support to marriages, and they're proving popular, with new organisations - sponsored by people in Qatar or Dubai, for example - springing up frequently.

Our selection process of possible candidates is very non-biased and transparent, even when it comes to different political groupings

One of the leading NGOs here is the Palestinian Society for Connectivity - known as Fataa [not to be confused with the political group of similar name] - which sponsors marriages across the Gaza Strip with financial grants, and not loans.

"In our purely charitable work, with respect to funding marriages in Gaza, we kicked off our programme for sponsoring marriages in 2012. It involves holding mass weddings for young couples, after these couples have been already supported financially by Fataa.

"Last year, 2015, we managed to launch our unprecedented programme for funding 200 couples in the territory. We provided each young couple with $4,000, as a one-time non-repayable grant. Actually, our selection process of possible candidates is very non-biased and transparent, even when it comes to different political groupings," Kareem Albanna, Fataa coordinator in Gaza, told The New Arab.

They are now preparing this summer's season of nuptials, with 50 young couples - all people with special developmental needs - pledging their vows to each other.

There should be public awareness sessions, among the local community, in a way that would encourage people to ask for smaller dowries

Concerns

Despite the charitable work, a leading Gaza-based psychologist, Dr Naeem Alghalban, believes that though the mass weddings could help many relationships come to the fruition of matrimony, other related issues also need to be sorted out.

"There should be public awareness sessions, among the local community, in a way that would encourage people to ask for smaller dowries and renounce some of the behavious and habits which lead to exaggerated wedding costs," he told The New Arab. "This includes highly-costly wedding parties that are held across the streets."

He added that the spread of such NGOs in the Strip was an overall positive development in a territory better known for its violence, economic hardship, a shortage of working opportunities and soaring prices of goods and commodities under an Israeli blockade that has lasted nearly a decade.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a quarter of a million young people in Gaza are jobless. The poverty rate here also stands at 70 percent.

"I hope to make a good family and run a happy married life, along with my future husband," said Samah Eljammala, Mahmoud Sheheibar's 20-year-old fiancée.

"I seek a dignified life, first and foremost. I like such institutions, as they provide the necessary assistance for people like ourselves."

Rami Almeghari is a journalist based in the Gaza Strip. Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari