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Niveen and Her Children: Life in Tinplate Caravan after the Scourge of War

By Nurhan Al-Madhun | Gaza

She was destined to start her life in a world of poverty, misery and despair. In her little self, there are repercussions she might not be able to forget with the years. Three-year-old, Nurhan Al-Shunbari, has a life not so different from any member of her family. And despite her young age, she is prepared as any of them to face a battle of existence, since she opened her eyes to find herself living between the tinplate walls of a caravan.

The child’s mother, Niveen Al-Shunbari (38) looks tired and distressed, she is the mother of 11 children, seven boys and four girls. Their house in Beit Hanoun was destroyed during the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Al-Shunbari tells the details of the suffering of her family, “The rain and sewage water drowned us in the winter, and in the summer the temperatures have risen so high, turning the caravan into the heat of fire”, she says.

Al-Shunbari sits on the edge of the caravan stairs, the place rises not much above the ground, bolstered by corroded stones, as she recalls her painful memories: “During the war we saw death with our own eyes, many times, I fled with my family to one of the UNRWA’s shelters, then we moved to the schools of Beit Hanoun after the war was over, and we were forced out, to find ourselves in a box of tin, which they called a temporary accommodation, the caravan”.

 She continues: “The war dispersed us, we used to live in one building with my husband’s parents and brothers, now we lost everything we owned, our home, our source of income - we had a small grocery store. Now we are without a home nor a source of income. We did not receive compensation from any side”.

Al-Shunbari thought that the ending of the war would put an end to her misery, and that safety and stability will be retained. She did not know that she is going to embark on a new journey of anguish. One of the problems giving her and her family a hard time is the accumulation of electricity and water bills, hindering the issuance of documents necessary to include their names in the reconstruction lists.

Nurhan stands in front of her mother and gazes with her little eyes, her mother grabs her towards her and exposes parts of her little body, ridden by skin diseases and heat.

“The shelters and caravans are not safe and not suitable for living, they are a breeding place for bugs, pests and worms. My 10-year-old son got Meningitis, I almost lost him if it wasn’t for God’s grace. My daughter’s arm was broken, my older son slipped and got his leg broken. Our life here is a series of agonizing and miserable events”, says Niveen.

Al-Shunbari looks on with a sigh to her children, gathered around her, expressing how bad she feels for them, their academic achievements declined after they were excellent at their schools, she confirms that was due to their difficult living conditions, the lack of comfort, stability and a suitable atmosphere.

Her words are mixed with tears, as she proceeds: “No home shelters us, no clothes cover us, we live on charity and the help sent to us by benefactors and some organizations. We tasted the bitterness of humiliation”.

Nurhan comes closer to her mother, leans on her as if she is trying to console her. The mother pats her child on the shoulder, and continues: “I am full of hope that we will escape from the hell of this caravan, and that the concerned authorities will give us the attention we need, that we will be enlisted for reconstruction, to obtain our simplest rights of a safe home and environment for us and our children”.

Niveen seems helpless before the suffering of her 11 children. She does not have a way to make them happy, nor can she even promise them of that. She focuses her sight on her youngest, Nurhan, thinking that the occupation has ruined her childhood, and forced her to a life with no safe home. She was thinking to herself, reflecting on her words: “When will our lives go back to normal? When will our house be reconstructed? Is there an official or an authority that will bear responsibility towards us?”