I want you to be a man by M. Gaza, Palestine

The power was off while the dark sky was moonless, empty, except of some reconnaissance drones that I thought were bright stars in the dawn. Everything was pretty quiet, and everyone from my family inside one room of our small unpainted house was sleeping and snoring on their mattresses without blankets. The atmosphere was really hot, and I was listening to the radio. That was the last thing I could remember before I slept.

Like any young man thrilled to not to be only a number within his society, I was dreaming of living in peace, love, and a better life. The dream I had was a sweet dream, but actually I couldn’t remember the whole of it since I woke up hurrying to a broken window in the crowded room we were sleeping in. At first, I really did not know why I woke up and why I hurried.

Looking through that window, I could see what I will never forget! I saw screaming women with their sleeping clothes still on, pouring into the street, running while carrying their little kids between their arms, not knowing where to go. Elders were crawling like little children asking for help, but no one could be of help. Men and youths were crying, running and holding white rags. Boys and girls were spread everywhere in that burnt street with tears running down their red cheeks.

However, I could hear nothing! I did not hear the screams of the women, the moans of the elders or the cries of the men. I wondered if I got Hypoacusis, but I am sure I did not! I looked around myself in that room to wake my sleeping family up, but I found no one! The door of the room was open, and everyone was out. I rushed to the hall of the home and no one was there. I looked into the kitchen and the other rooms, but I realized I was left alone.

Having no hopes in staying at home alone to wait for my family, I went out and joined the crowds of people who were still running to somewhere seeking shelter! This time I could hear everything, including the bombs and the buzzing of the drones in that black sky that did not light for us! I saw how burnt the trees were, and I saw the dead, chopped, burnt bodies of men, women, and children spread in every corner in the street.

While running in the river of terrified people, I saw little innocent children who did not know what was going on except crying over their weeping mothers. At once, my mind stopped thinking about everything around me and focused only on those children and their dreams, hopes and future! I thought about how they did not deserve what was going on, and that they shouldn’t have stopped going to their schools because of the war. They should have been able to learn, even during that war that lasted for more than fifteen days in 2014’s summer in the besieged Gaza Strip. I had and still have a belief in my life that literacy must be taught whether under wars or during peace.

To make sure my family was alright, I went to my father’s uncle’s home, that my dad used to always go to whenever something dangerous happened. I found my family there, and everyone was scared except my dad who was so mad at me! Well, he slapped me on my face asking me why I did not pick up the phone when he called me. I asked him why he did not take me with him when they fled, telling him that my phone’s battery was dead.

“I wanted you to be a man, so I left you alone at home. Well, in this war, I shouldn’t have done this!” Dad said, and then hugged me. I was and am still proud of my dad, who wanted me to be a man even during the bad situations.

I hugged my mother, who was crying silently, and kissed her forehead, then stayed with my sisters who were shivering like the trees in the autumn. My brothers were playing around us as if nothing was going on though.

Luckily, the home we stayed at had a generator generating electricity, so I rushed to charge my phone and then leaned against the wall where I put the charger. I started thinking about those children again! I really felt the need to do something for them!

I looked into my phone, and I opened the file where I had the phone numbers of some of my American, British, and Australian friends who were residing in the Strip that day. I knew someone who used to come to schools as a voluntary English teacher, so I called him asking him to meet me in a UNRWA school nearby where hundreds of families with their children sheltered.

I went to that school, and saw how much people were suffering. Men were lying on the floor of the playground of the school, and some of them were holding radios listening to what was going on. Women, girls, and children were inside the crowded classes, each of which contained more than 30 people.

I waited for ten minutes before my friend came along with a friend of his. I hugged them, shook their hands and introduced myself to the new friend.

Staying among the crowds of men in the playground of the school, my friend, his friend, and I started discussing a plan to create a new atmosphere to the “homeless” children in that school. We made a plan, a good one, and started to put the children into groups, with the help of the many volunteers that joined us directly. We helped them with English classes, educational games, storytelling and many other things that could make them forget about the war. Our plan started including more schools and shelters within the area I live.

Positively affecting me, this program made me another person, especially when I felt the smiles, joy, and the hops from the children and their families. Before the end of the program, moreover, the families became my friends, the volunteers and me feel so special after they thanked us with what they had. That made me who I am now.

After the end of the program, many educational institutions offered me to work with them, which I did. Now, I am working with one of those institutions that I would never have been able to work with if it weren’t for what I did during the war.

This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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