“I had no kitchen to prepare food, and my daughters were always dirty from sleeping on the ground. Now, I feel very comfortable.”
Eihab Seyam* lives with his wife, Rana,* and their two young daughters in Rafah, Gaza’s southern‑most governorate bordering Egypt. Due to the continuing blockade, the Gazan economy has all but stagnated, with opportunities for employment increasingly scarce. Eihab hasn’t been able to secure a permanent job in years, instead working as a seasonal laborer when he can, picking vegetables to earn about $5 per day. Exacerbating his situation, he suffers from a chronic illness and worries about being able to provide for his family. Rana works at home, taking care of their two daughters, one of whom has a lung condition.
Before receiving shelter assistance from Catholic Relief Services, their home was in a critical condition with plastic sheeting for windows, leaving them exposed to harsh weather and safety concerns. The kitchen and bathroom were in severe disrepair, and leaking water and dirt floors made daily cleaning a struggle and created unhygienic conditions. Because their youngest daughter relies on an electrical inhalation device and the area experiences persistent power cuts, they had to make multiple trips to the clinic each week. “Our house was unlivable. Only the walls covered us, [but] without electricity, we lived in total darkness,” Eihab says.
In 2019, the family was selected to receive assistance through the Shelter Upgrades for Substandard Housing in Gaza project, funded by the Government of Canada. Implemented by CRS in partnership with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and our local partner, the Bayader for Environment &Development Association, the project supports acutely vulnerable families living in dire conditions to make durable improvements so they can live in safe and adequate homes.
For the Seyam family, the improvements resulted in better health and hygiene, a safer environment and enhanced dignity, especially for Rana and their two girls. Shelter assistance supported Eihab to install windows, upgrade the kitchen and bathroom to meet minimum shelter standards, and plaster the outside of their home for improved insulation. Now, the family are no longer exposed to seasonal temperature extremes.
A growing electricity crisis due to political tensions has resulted in rolling blackouts for Gaza’s 2 million residents. Most families receive only four to six hours of power a day. The assistance package enabled the family to invest in a solar energy system—a reliable electricity source that enables their daughter to use her inhalation device at home. Rana says, “Thanks to the solar energy system, my daughter is able to complete her treatments in the comfort of our own home.”
Eihab adds, “Even if I had spent a lifetime saving money to upgrade my house, we couldn’t have done what we did without this assistance.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.