A Day in the Life of an Aid Worker in Rafah

With invasion imminent, what it's like to delivering lifesaving food, water, & medical supplies to those in need
May 6, 2024 11:00 AM ET
A man in an aid worker vest.
Saaed, 40, currently working as Emergency Coordinator in Rafah, has worked with CARE since 2009.

Growing up under occupation, I grew up amid despair. More than anything I wanted to help my community; to help my people in Gaza during times of crisis and conflict. Now, almost seven months after the war in Gaza escalated, I am looking back at what is currently the most difficult time of my life.

Like 1.9 million other Gazans, my family and I have had to flee multiple times. A few days after the war started, we fled to my brother’s house. Our neighborhood in Gaza City was bombed and we knew we would not survive if we stayed. Only a week later, my brother’s house was also attacked, and we packed up our few things and fled to Khan Younis, in the middle area of Gaza. Two months later, the war had followed us there as well, and we had no choice but to move further south.

In Rafah we rented a very small house with my brothers and sisters and their families. The living conditions are incredibly hard, and we share two small rooms among a total of 17 people.

Everything that people need to survive and live a normal life is missing.

All this time, wherever I was, I continued coordinating CARE’s emergency assistance for the now over two million people at risk of famine. As hard as my situation is, I know others needed my help: those who have suffered even more and lost everything.

Here in Rafah, for the past four months, my daily life as an aid worker has at least had a semblance of routine. Most mornings, I leave the house at around 7 am.

Once we have said our goodbyes and pray for all of us to see each other again in the evening, I drive to the joint humanitarian operations center. The United Nations and other international organizations like CARE have set up temporary offices there.

Our original CARE office, like so many other offices run by humanitarian organizations, is now nothing but rubble and ruins. In the office, I plan our aid distributions and coordinate with other agencies and our partners.

Many mornings, I drive to the border crossing to check on cargo trucks coming from Egypt, where our CARE colleagues are packing hygiene and dignity kits, as well as tools to repair shelters. So far, we have been able to get over 30 truckloads across, but it often takes up to two weeks and multiple checkpoints.

Every drop of water, every piece of bread, every hygiene item, and every tent mean so much to the people here, yet only a fraction of trucks is let in. So, for me, a good morning is when I see CARE packages pass the border.

We then have smaller trucks from our partner organizations waiting at the border, as it is easier to maneuver smaller vehicles into Rafah, where we either load the relief items into warehouses or directly distribute the aid. We usually distribute the relief items in shelters such as schools or community centers, where hundreds of families are living in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions.

Looking around, you see people’s despair on their faces, the grief in their eyes, and the horror of not knowing what will happen next. In these shelters, you will also see that most people are very sick. Children and young mothers are especially likely to be seen coughing from respiratory illnesses or suffering from diarrhea and skin diseases. We have also been traveling further out of Rafah to see people who are not even able to shelter in a building: from those who have set up tarpaulins over trees to create makeshift tents easily penetrated by the wind and cold to people simply laying on the street because they have nothing at all.

As an aid worker, traveling anywhere in Gaza is a huge risk. Just a few weeks ago, our colleagues at World Central Kitchen were killed, as were over 200 aid workers since October. Every day, I consult with our security team at CARE, and we come up with ways we can minimize some of the risks.

But I know that as long as this war continues and bombs and missiles keep being dropped, nowhere in Gaza is safe. Managing CARE’s relief efforts requires constantly shifting our plans, being flexible and creative. We have been without electricity since the conflict began, which makes phone calls and texting very difficult. The difficulty of withdrawing cash or making simple bank transactions, as well as the lack of fuel, are also constant hurdles we must overcome. Our local partner organizations are working around the clock, and I collaborate with them every day to ensure we can adapt our approach to whatever the current situation on the ground is.

Despite all of these challenges, we have managed to help over 350,000 people so far. I am proud of what our team has been able to achieve, but I can also see how all of this is taking a huge mental toll on all of us. Every day we speak to people who mourn their loved ones, mothers who worry their children won’t survive the next night because of illness, and children who have stopped speaking because what they have endured has left them withdrawn and shattered. At the same time, we aid workers are also deeply affected by this war. We struggle to feed our own children, we search for medication when they get sick, and we live in a constant cycle of fear and uncertainty, where every second our world could unravel deeper into sadness and loss.

I have lost family members, friends, and colleagues. We have lost our homes, our dreams, and our sense of security. My children spend most of their time indoors now, playing board games and reading whatever books we can find. They miss going to school and playing outside with their friends. They are anxious and worried, afraid of the bombings and airstrikes we hear around us every day and every night.

My eldest daughter is 13 years old; my youngest son is only 15 months. Before the war, my wife worked as a teacher, I worked for CARE, and my children went to school and kindergarten. We still had to live under occupation, but at least we could get happiness out of the small things, like sharing a meal in our house, sleeping in our own bed, or enjoying family time with lots of laughter and smiles. All these small things now seem the world to me, bigger and more important than anything else could ever be.

My biggest worry is the safety and well-being of my family. Will my children ever experience a normal childhood again? How will the scars of war affect the rest of their lives, these invisible wounds that they acquire again and again, every day this conflict continues? I hope and I wish for peace and support for Gaza. I want my children to grow up in a safe environment where they can pursue their dreams without fear. I want them to go back to school to learn and to be well educated.

As a father, I am proud of how resilient my family has been throughout this tragic and very difficult situation. Despite the hardships and the challenges, we remain united and support each other. As a humanitarian aid worker, I am proud of how resilient we aid workers have been, how many people’s lives we have saved, given the lack of resources and the ever-present dangers.

I hope that people in this world see what we are going through, that behind all the numbers and statistics are real people with families, with dreams, with aspirations. Families just like mine. I hope that people find it in their hearts to donate to our mission, to enable us to provide for the people around us and put a smile on women’s and children’s faces.”

CARE continues to call for an immediate ceasefire, the return of all hostages, and the passage of unfettered humanitarian aid into Gaza.