As a sole breadwinner, Mahmoud carried a heavy burden providing for his family. Photo by Mohamed Reefi for CRS.

Supporting Gazans to afford better food choices

An oPt Humanitarian Fund success story

Assistance is first step towards a more sustainable income

As a sole breadwinner, Mahmoud carried a heavy burden providing for his family. Photo by Mohamed Reefi for CRS.

Mahmoud Az Za’aneen is the sole breadwinner in a large, 13-member family, including two elderly parents. The family lives in a small house in a town in North Gaza. Mahmoud worked as a construction painter for 12 years, but a worsening medical condition from exposure to paint chemicals hampered his ability to work. Despite his efforts, Mahmoud faced difficulties securing permanent work in the deteriorating economy in Gaza and struggled to provide food for his family.

“I have faced many problems providing food for my family and we spent many days eating only tomatoes. I had to borrow money… Most of time I couldn’t buy chicken for Friday’s meal, but when I could, you can’t imagine how happy my children were; it was like a wedding party for them.” (Mahmoud Az Za’aneen)

In December 2019, Mahmoud’s family was one of 1,800 families selected to receive six months of emergency assistance to purchase food and other living supplies, as part of a project of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), funded through the occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian Fund (oPt HF)

The assistance was a turning point in Mahmoud’s life, enabling him to feed his family by purchasing food, vital living supplies and cooking fuel, while saving money to start a small business to secure a sustainable income. 

“Because of the [assistance], I managed to save some money I received from my irregular work to buy a small stall to sell vegetables. I stopped borrowing money,” he said.

With the CRS e-voucher, families can meet their priority needs enabling them to buy fresh food and living supplies from a variety of participating shops, as well as potable water and gas cylinder refills. E-vouchers can be used for food, vital living supplies and cooking fuel. “For weeks, I couldn’t provide cooking gas ... but through the [e-voucher] card, we can fill the cylinder and easily cook,” he said.

Mahmoud buying healthy food from a local supermarket.

Mahmoud felt particular relief at having enough food during the month of Ramadan fast and beyond. “For example, during Ramadan, I couldn’t provide enough food for my family to break their fast. Most of the time, they had only one meal instead of two … but with the help of the programme, I used the card to buy many different food items for them to eat properly throughout the period of support.”

Due to its low-contact approach, CRS was able to make quick modifications to the project as COVID-19 emerged as a risk in Gaza. CRS and its vendors immediately enabled physical distancing and other protective measures so Mahmoud and his family could safely redeem their electronic voucher.  CRS also used text messages, phone calls and flyers to make sure he and his family had accurate and timely information about how to stay safe during the outbreak.