'We lived this before': Syrian NGO Molham provides relief in Gaza

'We lived this before': Syrian NGO Molham provides relief in Gaza
"We could not watch the catastrophe occurring in Gaza and stand by without doing anything," said Al-Aswad, Molham's emergency response coordinator.
4 min read
05 April, 2024
A child beneficiary of Molham's aid project in Gaza stands beneath an banner holding a water canister. [Image provided courtesy of Molham]

As Faisal al-Aswad watched videos of Israeli warplanes and drones unloading their bombs on the Gaza Strip, he was reminded of scenes from his war-torn home in Syria. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians, mass forced displacement and Israel's razing of hospitals and schools was a grim reminder of how the Assad regime brutally suppressed the 2011 Syrian uprising.

Al-Aswad did not want the same brutality and horrors that his people endured to repeat in Gaza, or at least not while he stood idly by. With that feeling of urgency, he and his team at Molham, a Syrian NGO which provides relief aid and housing in northwest Syria, sprang into action.

"We could not watch the catastrophe occurring in Gaza and stand by without doing anything, especially given what we experienced in our country, Syria, and our intimate understanding of the death under bombing," Al-Aswad, the emergency response coordinator for Molham, told The New Arab.

In October 2023, shortly after the surprise 7 October Hamas-led attack, which killed 1,200 and the subsequent Israeli military war on Gaza, which has killed over 33,000, Molham launched aid projects in the besieged coastal enclave.

The team has more than 50 staff members working across the strip, implementing food provision and sanitation projects and helping more than 40 shelters provide for the displaced.

The organisation feeds around 1,000 people a day, a vital lifeline for families as starvation spreads across the Gaza Strip.

Live Story

"It is not enough. People's needs are growing, and the more hunger there is, the more problems and violence there will be. People are calling us 24/7 on all platforms looking for food," Mahmoud al-Najar, Molham's Gaza project manager, told TNA from the Gazan border town of Rafah.

Aid groups have said that Israel's refusal to allow adequate aid into the Gaza Strip since October has caused hunger to reach unprecedented levels.

According to Oxfam, almost all of the population of Gaza is experiencing extreme hunger, with people in northern Gaza forced to survive on just 245 calories a day – less than a can of beans.

The Molham team is racing against the overwhelming hunger imposed by Israel on Gaza, fighting against the cases of malnutrition in children in particular.

At one point, al-Najar was made aware of a five-year-old child, Yazan, in northern Gaza, who was suffering from extreme malnutrition. He and his team managed to transport Yazan from northern Gaza to the border enclave of Rafah despite the danger and previous bombings of humanitarians working in the same areas.

However, just two days after Yazan reached Rafah, he passed away – starvation had done irreversible damage to his body.

"He was as thin as bone. We tried to save him, but he died, unfortunately," Al-Najjar said, adding that he has had three other cases who have died of malnutrition. 

Solidarity, from Syria to Gaza

For years, Molham has been fighting a losing battle, trying to provide a decent quality of life for millions of people, most of whom are displaced, in northwest Syria as international aid to Syria shrinks.

To help fund its humanitarian mission, it turned to crowdfunding campaigns, relying on small international donations to keep the organisation running and to buy supplies for needy families.

In January 2022, Molham launched a campaign to build 500 houses for displaced families in northwest Syria. They raised a whopping US$2 million for their campaign, with most of the donations under US$100.

One of the biggest sources of donations was Palestine, where despite the challenging economic and political situation there, money poured in to help house displaced Syrians.

Al-Aswad said that, among other things, the Gaza mission was a way to "return the favour" to Palestinians who have supported the Syrian aid organisation for so long.

The lessons the aid organisation learned from years of work in Syria, which also suffers from a humanitarian blockade, politicised aid and where aid workers are in danger – have helped them operate in Gaza.

"[Molham] is so sincere about the work because they have lived the same lives that we have and empathise with us. We are all drinking from one cup," Al-Najjar said.