Walaa's story: Overcoming malnutrition in Gaza

18-month old Walaa lives in a neighbourhood in Gaza City with her parents, 4 siblings and a divorced aunt. Shijaia is one of the largest, oldest and most crowded neighbourhoods in Gaza, with around 100,000 residents. The family lives in a tiny house consisting of 2 rooms with no sink, heating or oven, except for a small Kerosene burner. The ceiling is made of rusty corrugated tin sheets. 
 
Walaa’s father, 41, suffers from chronic bronchial asthma and doesn't have a job meaning the family has no source of income other than the $250 that the aunt receives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, once every 3 months.
 
Walaa’s mother is 31 years old. She says: 'I was worried about Walaa’s health. I could tell her condition wasn't good. It wasn’t a surprise when the NECC staff at the clinic told me she has severe malnutrition and anaemia, because we do get food parcels, but we needed a better variety of food.
 
'My sister lives next door and her husband is employed, so they give us stuff almost every month - things like tomatoes, potatoes, rice, beans and lentils. 
 
'Typical meals for my family are duqqa (grained spiced wheat) at 11am for breakfast. Then at 4pm we have lentils mixed with bread and pepper and olives for lunch/dinner. We have late breakfasts and “lunches” so that the kids won’t ask for dinner later. I send the 3 older kids to school and kindergarten with a duqqa sandwich each. 
 
'At the weekends our breakfast is fried tomatoes and potatoes. Occasionally my parents send me food. My children go to bed hungry quite often. 
 
'At my first visit to the Well-Baby programme at the NECC clinic, the staff nurse measured Walaa (length, weight, head circumference), and carried out a blood test. I had no idea what to do about Walaa's condition, so the staff nurse provided me with instructions, and information about nutrition, healthy and affordable food. 
 
'Now I have adopted a better diet for Walaa and my family as well, and I feel I am a much better mother for my kids. I used to get Walaa tea with biscuit for breakfast before the programme, but now I use mint instead of tea - I realized that tea drinking causes anaemia for children. I also try to include vegetables in every meal. 
 
'Walaa has recovered now and has reached the normal weight. We still live in the same living conditions and nothing much has changed about that, but I feel very pleased about my daughter's health, and I’m pleased with the knowledge I have gained. 
 
'I really appreciate the courtesy shown to me by NECC staff, the good communication and respect. I can’t imagine the Shijaia area without the NECC clinic, as I can’t imagine what would happen to the health of our families. I really hope that their services remain and expand in order for them to help our people and reduce suffering. God bless them.'