The place where Mrs. Najah grew up as a refugee is now the place she’s helping to rebuild—from her kitchen.
Mrs. Najah is a grandmother. She can proudly name all 19 of her grandchildren. And if she traces the family line back to her own grandparents, she remembers how they lived off of the crops they planted.
Orchards of oranges and olives. Grapes and figs they sold in neighboring cities. Tomatoes, wheat, and barley.
The family worked together in the fields and their small village shop stocked with margarine, oil, and sweets.
But in 1948 they were among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forced from their homes during the Arab-Israeli war.
“When the people left their houses, they closed the door and took the keys with them, thinking they would return, that they would come back,” Mrs. Najah said.
“They thought it would be days—the days became 70 years.”
An eye on Gaza
Mrs. Najah was born in Block J of the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
She grew up there and saw the flashes of conflict over the land. She witnessed how her family and neighbors were affected by the 14-year blockade Israel and Egypt imposed on Hamas-controlled Gaza—how it limits Palestinians’ movement in and out of the territory and stifles the flow of goods, costing billions of dollars in economic losses.
“I wish we had the possibility to move freely from the Gaza Strip to another country without having any trouble—that would be much better for Palestinians,” Mrs. Najah said. “But we’ve been suffering from 1967 until now.”
And now, she’s watching COVID-19 sweep in and strain what’s left of the struggling economy—but she’s also cooking.
Mrs. Najah’s Kitchen
As the Executive Director of the Women’s Programs Center-Rafah, Mrs. Najah manages a seven-woman team of cooks. In her kitchen, they make classic, hearty meals of chicken and rice with pine nuts mixed in and limes for garnish.
Photo: Rebuilding Alliance
With two-thirds of the population already struggling to get food regularly and unemployment at 45%, the pandemic and the 11-day war between Hamas and Israel in May have made it even tougher for families in Gaza to make a meal—much less one with chicken or meat.
“The pandemic affected a huge number of people, especially those who work day to day. They lost their jobs. There was no income source for them,” Mrs. Najah said.
So she serves anyone who needs a meal—cancer patients, people with disabilities, children who are orphans—not only the refugees that make up most of Gaza’s population.
During the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel that killed at least 248 people in Gaza, Mrs. Najah’s team made about 1,200 meals for families. Some went to households that were sheltering more than 25 people from Israeli airstrikes.
“We couldn’t ignore the need of those families,” wrote Kareem, a coordinator in Rafah for Rebuilding Alliance, a nonprofit that supports Mrs. Najah’s Kitchen.
Since the project started last year, the team has fed thousands of people to help Gaza recover, and they serve a different area with every delivery.
Photo: Rebuilding Alliance
“When I go to a house, I ask the woman who lives there what she prepared for lunch,” Mrs. Najah said. “And I feel joy when I give her a good, hot meal after she says she did not prepare anything.”
Every minute, 20 people leave their homes and uproot their lives to escape war, persecution, or terror. Every month, you could help them move closer to stability.
You can support people like Mrs. Najah who are not only refugees but are also parents, grandparents, teachers, or leaders serving their communities. A monthly donation of $10 would let Mrs. Najah feed a family of five and help Gaza recover. That same amount could provide supplies for refugee-owned microbusinesses in camps in Uganda or legal aid for families fleeing violence and instability in Central America and seeking safety.
This World Refugee Day, make a lasting difference by setting up an automatic, monthly donation to a refugee-focused nonprofit, and GlobalGiving will match your contribution at 100% after four consecutive gifts.*
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