UNRWA-USA Visits Zakat Foundation of America Headquarters

Humanitarian organizations are responsible for amazing work around the world. It’s even better when they work together on a joint campaign.

That’s exactly what Zakat Foundation of America and United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA-USA) are doing for the Rebuild Gaza campaign. The project focuses on rebuilding broken or destroyed homes in Gaza. Last week, UNRWA-USA Executive Director Abby Smardon and Grants Officer Nada El-Eryan visited Zakat Foundation of America headquarters in Chicago to provide updates from their recent trip to Gaza.

“Zakat Foundation has been immensely helpful in the rebuilding process,” said Abby.  More than 20 percent of the homes have been completely rebuilt in the worst hit neighborhoods. Abby also described Gaza as one of the only places in the world witnessing a “de-development” by which Gaza’s once blossoming economy spiraled backwards to the current condition.

Decades ago, Gaza was seen as a vacation destination, famed for its pristine beaches and excellent seafood cuisine. Its strategic location along the Mediterranean coast nurtured a rich export economy with abundant trade, including agriculture.

Gaza is very different today. It’s still recovering from the 2014 military assault in which thousands of civilians lost their lives and widespread damage was inflicted upon the infrastructure. The flow of humanitarian aid is severely prevented by the blockade now in its 10th year. Due to the imposed blockade, it becomes challenging to import construction materials for rebuilding purposes.

There is also the looming crisis of Gaza’s diminishing water supply. There is only one functional aquifer for all of Gaza since the others were destroyed in repeated military attacks. Only 4 percent of Gaza’s water is drinkable. In addition, more than 1 million people require food assistance, and unemployment is nearly at 45 percent, according to the UNRWA.

UNRWA is the largest humanitarian organization active in Gaza with more than 13,000 employees from teachers and engineers to doctors and social workers. It also supports 270 schools in Gaza in addition to mental health programs.

“The [Rebuild Gaza] campaign gives them hope,” Nada said. “It creates more resilience once their home is rebuilt, as it returns their dignity.”

“The people of Gaza don’t want war — they want peace to live their lives. That’s a universal sentiment that everyone can understand. They want to have a voice and the opportunity. We hear their perspective and bring that humanity back to the U.S. They’re people just like you and me.”