GAZA CITY: Forty men and women who live in the only home for the elderly in the Gaza Strip welcome the month of Ramadan because it means more visits by relatives and greater support to help them live comfortably.
“The month of Ramadan is a golden month for the elderly residing in the Al-Wafaa Center for the Elderly. There is an increase in donations and an increase in activities, as well as an increase in people’s visits to the elderly and spending time with them,” said Basman Alashi, director of the home, recently.
None of the residents — of between 65 and 80 years of age — have children or close relatives.
“We provide them with what we can of housing, clothing, food, medical care and psychological care within our available capabilities, which depend mainly on in-kind and financial donations from individuals in the Gaza Strip,” Alashi told Arab News.
“There are many requests to host larger numbers of our center, but our capabilities do not allow increasing the numbers. We have a capacity to accommodate up to 120 to 150 people, but our capabilities are limited,” he added.
During the month of Ramadan, donations increase dramatically. “What we usually collect in this month covers most of what we need throughout the year.”
Some of those in the home are in long-term care for paralysis and comas which require constant medical supervision. However, more than half are in good health and able to live relatively normal lives.
Those who are able to fast have iftar together in the center’s hall, where food is served either from donations or prepared in the kitchen.
Several religious, national and social occasions are held to help the residents feel they are part of society. In Ramadan, there are young volunteers who spend time with them, and help to make qatayef sweets in the evening.
“The beautiful atmosphere in Ramadan reflects on the psyche of the elderly in the center. The community’s participation in the (lives of the) elderly and their visits reflect on their mental health,” said Ibrahim Abu Afash, the home’s public relations officer.
“We try to provide them with whatever services we can in order to keep them happy. Our relationship with them is not an employee relationship, but rather a relationship of friendship and love, and I consider them to be my grandmothers and grandfathers,” Abu Afash told Arab News.
Abu Afash regularly takes pictures “of myself with them so I can keep them in my memory.”
He said old age represents “only a small part of their long lives, in which they suffered from deprivation of family, children and health. We must be friendly toward them to make them happy, whether in Ramadan or at other times.”
The center needs more than ILS500,000 (over $137,000) for operating expenses annually, most of which is collected through generous donations, mostly from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or abroad during the month of Ramadan, according to Alashi.
The elderly makes up 4.5 percent of the 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip.
“We need compassionate hearts that visit the elderly, making them feel that Ramadan is a beautiful month with its good deeds as well as the behavior of people in it. We feel the obvious improvement in the psychology of the elderly here in this month as a result of the changes and the increase in visits and events,” Alashi said.
“We know that the month of Ramadan remains distinct from others, but we always strive to make all months and all times beautiful as best we can for these elderly people who live with us in this center that was established more than 40 years ago.”