I perked up when I was told by We Are Not Numbers that its partner NGO, the Rebuilding Alliance, was going to distribute Little Sun solar lights to people in particular need of light at this dark time of year in Gaza. It has been a long time since I had participated in community service, so—despite the early starting time, which goes against my nature—I jumped at the chance to participate. When I see people in need receive help and witness happiness bursting from the depth of their hearts into their eyes, I forget all of the tragedy and suffering that dominates life in Gaza.
However, although I have participated in many charitable activities during my years, this one was really special. I found myself wishing that everyone—both inside Gaza and out, where they often don’t understand us—could have accompanied me during this experience and felt what I felt. So, let me try to share a little of it with you.
The warmest and kindest salute
First, we visited the Al-Amal Society for Rehabilitation, which serves hundreds of deaf and mute students in Rafah, in the far south of the Gaza Strip. The pride they felt upon receiving the gift of the Little Suns was evident as we began distributing the solar lamps. One little girl kept staring at her Little Sun, without a single blink, as if she had been given the most valuable prize in the world.
Every time we finished distributing the Little Suns to a class, all of the students stood and, in unison, put their hands near their heads and gave us the warmest and kindest salute. I asked one of the teachers about the gesture they made with their hands. She said it meant “thank you” in sign language.
The circle of hope
The head of Al-Amal later told us about a home nearby where a mother lives with six deaf children. We went immediately to visit her, bearing a Little Sun as a gift. The mother was so grateful:
“This Little Sun is the best thing to help me cope with the darkness that so often prevents me from communicating with my children with sign language,” she told us.
After that, we went on our way to the Women’s Program Center to meet children attending kindergarten and give them their own Little Suns. They stood in a circle and raised the lamps high to form an illuminated circle that their teacher called a “circle of hope.”
We next moved to a very poor neighborhood in Rafah, which is very close to the border with Egypt. As we distributed the solar lamps, we entered an old, dark building and climbed the steep stairs. There is no elevator in that building. I wondered how the family coped with ascending these tiring stairs on a daily basis. We entered their tiny, one-room flat to witness the tragedy they live every day. The walls were bare concrete blocks, the floor plain cement and the roof merely sheets of rusty zinc.
The father literally beamed to see his two children receive the Little Suns. Being among those who brought a little joy to this desperate family bring warmth to my heart for a long while.
We descended the stairs to meet another family. We were told they depend mainly on sunshine for light and spend long nights without electricity because the father cannot afford to pay the electricity bill. Their bathroom is a corner of their living room, curtained off only by a piece of cloth. However, although their poverty was evident, cleanliness was as well. I have never seen such clean and shining rust like in these humble houses!
The patriarch of the family told us his story: “I’m unemployed. I cannot afford to buy food for my three children. I’ve been suffering from trauma for more than a year, due to the martyrdom of my brother, who was killed in an Israeli shelling in 2017 when he was just 24. He was always with me. He was not only my brother but my entire life. I can’t afford fees for treatment. I can’t afford the electricity bills. I can’t even afford to buy a candle. The Little Suns will help lighten the darkness and our miserable life.”
The dark camp
After that, we went to the overcrowded Al-Shati (“Beach”) Camp. There, we met Ehab Zaqout.
“These Little Suns are most timely. Winter is at the door and the hours of electricity cuts are increasing [as the heavy rains damage the cables], especially at nighttime. Even in the morning, we are in real need of them! Al-Shati camp is very crowded, with houses literally stacked on each other. The streets are very narrow, and darkness pervades our camp all the time,” he said.
After we gave his family a Little Sun solar light, he took us to another family.
“They are very poor. I don’t mean to invade their privacy, but I’ve never seen a light in their place! This will make them truly happy,” Ehab said.
We knocked on the door and a cute little boy opened it. As we entered, Ehab murmured while looking around at their tiny, almost-empty place, “I knew they were poor, but I didn’t know they lived in this much poverty.”
We talked to the youngest child in the family.
“The darkness here is everywhere; it’s dark all the time. I need a light whenever I want to go to the bathroom or do my homework, even when I walk in the camp’s streets,” he said.
We continued distributing the Little Suns to more needy families. This little source of light brought so much happiness to all of the people we met throughout this trip. Despite the long day, our energy was renewed with every smile. In fact, we wished we would never run out of the smile makers, these Little Suns…