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Samaira: The Story of Palestine, Refugees and Dreams

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By Aparajita Paul:

On the outskirts of Bethlehem, just off the main Jerusalem-Hebron road, sits Camp Aida–a Palestinian refugee camp built by UNRWA in 1967. It’s a small camp, about 2,300 people in all, and from the main road it appears less impoverished than the large camps in Gaza or elsewhere in the West Bank. Within Camp Aida, however, there are the usual telltale signs of a refugee camp: narrow dirt lanes, sewage flowing in open gutters, and small children darting to and fro.

This is where Samaira grew up. She is now 32, has a husband and two children of her own. She lives in a shabby apartment on the outskirts of Gaza.

She is now living a perfect life. She does listen to the sounds of those Israeli tanks rumbling or the marching of the Israeli troops or the occasional sound of a bomb here and there, killing a few, but destroying the lives of many, forever. But now she is used to it. She just prays that her children never go through what she went through in her childhood.

Her suffering is long, painful, and continuous, especially in the last decade where life became very difficult and full of dangers every step of the road. Simply, the human being’s life is unsecured and in danger even inside his own home, especially for them as residents of area “C” which is under full Israeli military control.

During the first Intifada, Samaira was riding her bicycle and going back home. Where Israeli soldiers stopped her and interrogated her. Then they ordered her to climb a high voltage power post and take down a Palestinian flag from the top of that post. She refused to do so because of her incapability of climbing the post and because of the danger the high voltage might impose on her life. At that point all the soldiers started beating her. One of them started pulling her from her hair with her face downward and kept pulling toward their armed vehicle. During that, a sharp object hit her in the left side of her face, causing a deep long cut. She started bleeding and lost a lot of blood which covered her face, head and clothes. The soldiers left her alone on the road side after half an hour of continuous bleeding under a hot sun. Her father then found her at midnight and took her home.

Samaira’s mother was abducted and raped. They were all having breakfast one morning in their one bedroom house in Gaza when it happened. Samaira was 12 then, the eldest out of her three siblings. They come, those beasts in armour, their faces covered with a black cloth, that hungry look on their faces. They knocked on the door. Samaira’s youngest brother opened it. They asked for their father. He wasn’t at home. They entered, pushed the children away, picked up their mother and went off. She struggled, she kicked and punched but to no avail. Samaira stared and stared. Not comprehending what was happening. Her little brother’s and sisters were screaming for their mother. But they had gone, not knowing how many shattered souls they left behind.

Her father? Well he was a member of the Hamas. Having seen what happened to his wife, he joined the Hamas militia. ‘Your father is a terrorist’, is what her friends used to say. ‘He has flouted the will of Allah.’ But then, where was Allah when they took her mother? When they bombed their ancient house in Jerusalem, killing all of her numerous aunts and uncles and all of her millions of cousins? Where was Allah then? Did he go away from Palestine when those animals broke the mosque?

Her father used to come home everyday with more and more wrinkles on his face. Was he growing old? They had been hearing about the troubled times outside. There was going to be a war. But weren’t they already waging a war? A war against those dirty men who took her mother away? A war against Israel? A war against those white officers who her father often abused? A war against life, against survival?

And then one day, he went out in the morning, but never returned. Samaira didn’t even bother to go and look for him because she knew she couldn’t risk the lives of her brother’s and sister’s who were now her responsibility. Thats when the UNRWA officers came. Samaira’s father had said they were bad men. But they seemed pretty nice as they took her and her siblings to their camp.

By that time she knew that their plight as refugees, their poverty, was the result of a great injustice that had been done to Palestinians. The Israelis had come as colonists, forced them out of their villages, and had taken their land. The same Israeli army that she saw every day in front of her camp had committed crimes, whick they could never be forgiven for. Her parents deserved to still be there, living with them, in their village. They all deserved proper education, a proper house, and proper food and water.

This small story, is half fiction, half reality. One wonders about the stories of the future where the Palestinians are left with Hamas sharia-lite or worse, some kind of utterly dysfunctional government which sees every problem as something car bombs and gunfire can solve. Which in and of itself is fine if that’s the destiny they’ve chosen. But who will you blame then?

They, as a matter of fact, all Palestinians deserve to dream. They deserve a life without misery, without suffering, without this half century long ongoing genocide.

And to those who are trying to underestimate the seriousness of the impact of starvation, they should be more careful as the next meal for the starving Palestinian, may be his own flesh and blood.

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  1. A

    very well written…

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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