During a humanitarian trip to Gaza, Reem Elkhaldi saw two young boys, a 5 year old and 14 year old, selling Palestinian frozen ice in the sun for what would be roughly 5 cents here in the U.S. She approached them, attempting to strike up a conversation and eventually invite them into the Healing Our Homeland center nearby.
While the 5 year old was receptive to her and ran into the healing center, his 14 year old brother was confused.
“It was shocking to him,” Reem recalls. “His eyes started tearing up at the idea that I was even talking to him and trying to have a conversation with him. It was just small talk but it meant so much to him.”
Now he’s a regular at Healing Our Homeland’s healing center, where he has access to mental health services, yoga & movement, child development, and educational initiatives - all free of charge. Because the center is a safe and accepting place for him to simply be, he has a chance to think about his future.
“We encouraged him to think about his dreams,” Reem says. “He told me he wants to memorize the Qur’an so that he can understand it and be good Muslim.”
These boys are two of 1 million children living in the world’s largest open-air prison – the Gaza strip. Every child that is 14 or older has experienced four major attacks that left thousands dead and countless injured and traumatized.
These dangerous circumstances have created generations of children who need ongoing psychological and social support. While it cannot end the occupation alone, Healing Our Homeland aims to help Palestinian women and chidren heal themselves from personal, collective and generational trauma.
“It’s amazing how many of the people we deal with have internalized colonization,” Reem says. “The occupation has manipulated their thinking into believing their suffering is normal, acceptable, and even deserved. We’re resisting those ways of thinking. By educating even one person so they unlearn this, we’re able to train generations to take charge of their own identity and narrative, and make positive change.”
While many relief organizations focus on the basic needs of Palestinians living under occupation, like access to food, clean water, and shelter, Healing Our Homeland prioritizes the psychological and social needs of children and women within the community so that they don’t just survive - but thrive.
“We don’t want to keep Gaza just alive with hearts beating but dead souls - we want them to thrive,” Reem says. “They deserve more. They deserve therapy. They deserve physical activities, arts and crafts. All the things we want for ourselves. They deserve what we want for our kids. Palestinians don’t just want basic human rights. We want everything that everyone else gets to enjoy.”
Palestinian women are faced with systemic and structural violence by the ongoing occupation and discrimination. They lack freedom of movement, access to education, economic opportunities, and reproductive health. Gender equality and the empowerment of women is essential in any movement of liberation, which makes the healing, education, and social lives of Palestinian women a priority for Reem and her team.
“In addition to providing access to various services within our healing center, we encourage the women in the community to give back and serve,” Reem says. “We provide them with toys that they can distribute to children in hospitals and ingredients so they can make food for neighbors. It gives them a renewed sense of purpose. These women are getting together and spending time serving another group of women, which creates a ripple effect of service to one another. They’re doing this to thrive in spite of it all. And that’s powerful and resists the occupation.”
With school back in session soon, most families (many of which are led by single mothers) have been saving for months just to afford school supplies. It’s a financial burden for them. For many families, they have to make a decision between school supplies or food for the week. By purchasing one of the Free Palestine Hoodies, you’re helping to relieve some of that burden.
“You’d be surprised how far a donation can go,” Reem says. “By supporting these women and children, we are inspiring them to create a brighter future. When we empower the disempowered, we all heal together.”
As a women-owned business that seeks to empower women and women-led communities, VELA is proud to support the work of Reem Elkhaldi and her team at Healing Our Homeland.
Shop the Free Palestine Hoodies to support Palestinian women and children today!