I know you all have been waiting for a report on the hats being delivered, and I appreciate your patience as travelling through Rafah is at best difficult. The crossing is only open at certain times and these times are difficult to even know and can change at the drop of a hat, excuse the pun:)
I am happy to report that the hats were delivered and were a great hit with the children. The hats were delivered to a group of children whom the majority were orphans, all of them were refugees who lost their homes in the war last year. Please remember that you can click on the photos to enlarge them, now here is my report:
Upon arrival at the community centre where the group of children were to receive the hats I had no idea of what to expect. People themselves were very friendly, all smiles, very happy to see an outsider visiting them. Some spoke broken English, this combined with hand signals and animated expressions allow for eager communication.
I was speaking as best I could, to the lady in charge of the local “Women’s Affairs Centre” who arranged the children’s visit. A heavy set jovial woman whom you can’t help but like, even if you can’t understand everything she is saying. As we waited for the children to arrive, she had arranged a small lunch for me and I felt guilty taking their food as they are so short of things due to the siege. But you soon discover you cannot say “no” to the hospitality, as they will attempt to feed you if you don’t eat a sufficient amount and you must try everything at least twice LOL.
After this we entered a room where chairs were arranged in a circle. All the while this woman either held my hand or had her arm around me, smiling and talking a blue streak of broken English. She told me that the majority of these children were very traumatised as a result of the war. All of them were from refugee camps, many of them had stopped speaking after the war and were now non-verbal. Some had reverted to child like behaviour such as thumb sucking and rocking for comfort. So that set the scene.
Shortly they began to arrive, a group of women, whom were involved in caring for the children arrived and began taking seats around the centre area along with the smaller younger children surrounding where the box of hats were located. The children also arrived and the smaller shy ones sat on the laps of the women or hid behind the chairs, peeking out every now and then to see what was happening.
The children ranged in age from toddler to 12 years old and there were more boys than girls, although not by much. The difference was the girls were younger and on the whole, much more shy, only three of them ever mixed in the larger group after they got their hat, most of them remained hiding behind chairs or on the laps of the women care givers. Overall the girls were much younger than most of the boys and maybe more fearful of strangers. If you enlarge some of the photos and look way in the back you will see some of the traumatized kids with hats, but hiding behind chairs and people. The photo below was actually clipped out of a large group shot and I have enlarged it just to show how they hide behind adults and chairs or anything else they can get behind, because the kids that were hiding were too traumatized for me to get them out from behind the chairs and they were afraid of everything and so I did not want to force them to be in photos. Example below:
The most striking thing for me, and what I will never erase from my mind, was the faces of the children when they first arrived. Their faces were utterly blank, devoid of expression or emotion; their eyes were lifeless and hopeless. It was as if they had lost their identities and personalities, they were so damaged. To be honest they looked like the walking dead. I’ll never forget that for as long as I live and you will see this in some of the photos like the ones below as an example:
This little girl did begin to smile later on after much coaxing on my part and you will see her smile in another photo. The rest of the shy hiding ones never did smile nor come out after they got their hats.
So, it was arranged for the hats to be distributed in some sort of orderly fashion, but once it was announced by the interpreter that the hats were actually for the kids, the kids became all excited once that sunk in, and soon it descended into chaos with scenes reminiscent of a 70% off sale at the mall. It happened so fast that the first pictures I was able to get only show throngs of kids surrounding the hat box. You cannot even see the box of hats, it was madness.
But the kids were so excited and I’ve never seen anything like it, with each one looking for their perfect hat in their favourite colour. Grabbing three at a time and trying them on. Like kids everywhere, some were crying or sulking because someone else got their favourite hat first. Once all the hats were taken, they then began to swap and trade and try each others hats on. So if you see your hat on a kid, you may also see it on another kid later on after all the trading was completed. It was so cute! It was explained to me that they never get anything new, and they never get a choice. So to be able to pick a hat on their own was a really big thing to them. And they enjoyed every second of that foreign experience.
In the photo below you will see a young boy wearing a teal sweater, he is standing with his arms folded looking like a thunder cloud. This is because he did not get the hat he wanted, someone else got to it before he could. He attempted to trade numerous times but to no avail and so he remained sulking the entire time mostly.
Most of the girls took their hats and immediately went back to the women caring for them, back to lap sitting and hiding behind chairs. However, there were three little girls who were curious of the stranger and remained within the larger group of mostly boys. These three girls were so cute and they allowed me to photograph them a few times.
Also, there was the cutest little boy he was 4 years of age and an orphan who had stopped speaking after his family was killed. Although he never spoke or even smiled, he was fascinated with me and his special hat! He followed me everywhere and I made a fuss over him, hugging him and speaking to him, smiling and playing with him. And although he never smiled, he was keen to have my attention continue and would appear at my knees often just staring up at me hoping for more attention. His photo is below:
The trading and trying on of each others hats went of for about 15 minutes more. Some of the children were starting to become more interactive as well. Evidently in school they are taught some English phrases. The two they all seem to know are; “Hello” and “How old are you?” What was funny to me is that they never get to actually try the phrases on real English speakers, so picture a room full of kids and one English speaking stranger to practice on. Are you laughing yet? For the remainder of the time spent there I was continually told “hello” and asked “how old are you?” to which I replied “How old are you?” back, and they’d show by fingers how old they were. Some were intent on me answering them, so I had to do the ten fingers thing a few times to reach my age, which made some laugh and others look shocked at so many fingers LOL.
After this the group moved outside to a small grassy area next to the community centre. Grassy areas are few and far between. I was told this tiny area has been planted after the war as a park type area for the kids to play when visiting the centre. These were the final photos of the day taken here in the grassy area where the kids really by this time were laughing and horsing around with their hats. Many had also become little celebrities and were competing for camera time. They all began holding the hats in the air, like graduation day at your local college. Smiling and waving and celebrating. More group and individual photos follow this section below:
Again this same group who hid behind chairs, continued to hide behind the grown ups and were fearful of being photographed or interacting with me and I did not push the situation, I just let them be and every now and then I’d catch one of them watching with interest from behind their safe space.
So, below are the rest of the photos. I tried my best to take out from group photos, individual kids so people could see their hats on as many as possible. Also once the kids attacked the box of hats it was so difficult to find individual hats, between them all running around and the group of shy kids hiding all over the place. But all of you who contributed to this project should take away a great source of pride from this. Because for just one day in their lives, they got to pick their own thing that had never belonged to anyone else, and you all allowed them to have that experience. Additionally, they know that somewhere outside of their little lives, there are people who thought about them and cared enough to give them that experience, and while that is a small thing in the grand scheme of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, it is actually a big thing to the kids who participated and got a hat of their own and a little bit of attention that was just for them. Next are the groups photos followed by the individual photos:
Individual photos next:
So, I will end by saying thank you to everyone who participated, and by asking each one of you to give yourselves a well deserved big pat on the back for giving this small experience to these traumatized orphans from the refugee camp.
Well done everyone!
Thank You from the kids in Gaza!