Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Harm Can Paper Do? - Jasmine Whitbread

Reuters AlertNet blog, March 3, 2009 - I walk out of the building at the crossing into Gaza. As far as the eye can see everything has been flattened. Houses are reduced to rubble and twisted metal. I thought this was from the recent fighting but I later learn this is from previous insurgence. My colleagues who have been waiting for hours for me to get through the crossing are relieved to see I have made it.

We drive through residential areas, some houses are totally untouched, others with windows blown out but I would say three quarters of the houses have been flattened. Amongst the rubble I spot a little boy, maybe only 3 years old, just like my son when he was a toddler. He was playing amongst the rubble. Seeing that little one, on his own, that was shocking to me.

Our first stop was an area where about 400 families are living in tents. Their homes have been bombed. The tents are tiny, overcrowded and offer little or no protection from the wind and the temperature drops to 7C (45F) at night.

Here we visit a clinic set up by Save the Children's local partners. As a woman I am allowed to go into the antenatal clinic and I am stunned. As the tent flaps in the wind I am shuffled along the dirt floor to see a worn-out examination chair and vintage scanning machine hitched up to a generator rumbling away outside the tent. The staff look exhausted but they continue to struggle on with no clean water and basic equipment. Life goes on, as they say. 3,500 children have been born since the fighting began so this clinic is vital but clearly under resourced. What a nightmare. I can only think of the stark contrast from my experience when I was pregnant and my first scan.

We drive on and stop at some of Save the Children's emergency playschools. One is in a tent, another in a donated building. The staff are amazing organising dancing and singing but I still feel the children are very subdued. We would normally run art projects to help them get over the trauma of the fighting. They would draw pictures and we would run arts and craft workshops but due to the tight border restrictions it's impossible to get hold of paper. This really hits me, how limiting these border restrictions are. What's wrong with paper, what harm can it do?....

Jasmine Whitbread was appointed Chief Executive of Save the Children UK in November 2005, and is also a board member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a confederation of 30 member organizations working in over 120 countries.

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