UNMAS | Gaza |Sasha Logie
It is a Tuesday morning in May 2017, and my team has organized an event for Maha and the children of the Shams Al Amal School for Disabled Children.
Maha is twelve years old and lives in Gaza. When we meet, she has little choice in the matter, as her wheelchair is steered towards us, propelled by her enthusiastic teacher. At first, Maha turns away shyly and I wonder if she would rather be somewhere else - perhaps with her friends gathered near the face-painting clowns - but she soon breaks into a beaming grin and proudly shows me a sparkly bracelet.
In Maha’s young life, she has lived through three Israel-Gaza wars. During the last conflict in 2014, Maha’s home was destroyed by an aerial bomb, which killed her family and left her with life-changing disabilities.
The Shams Al Amal School provides education for 110 children, ranging in age from four to twelve years old, all of whom have some form of disability. While the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) regularly visits schools to teach about the dangers of explosive remnants of war, this is not a normal UNMAS visit.
A few months earlier, the UNMAS Palestine team received an award which acknowledged its work to clear unexploded bombs in Gaza. Since the 2014 conflict, UNMAS has cleared 149 bombs, including some from the Shams Al Amal School itself, which has allowed Gazans to live safely and rebuild their communities.
The UNMAS Palestine team decided to donate the award prize money to a charitable cause. And so, here we find ourselves, with Maha and 86 of her fellow pupils, gathered in a circle around singing clowns and dabkeh dancers. The children are excited to receive gift bags and prizes, and to have their faces painted into tigers and butterflies.
UNMAS also donated much needed equipment and supplies for the school.
For the UNMAS Palestine team, organizing this event for the Shams Al Amal School is not just a way to donate our prize money, but it became a meaningful team experience and a reminder of the important impact that our work can have on people like Maha and the communities we support.