“I want this project to be the start for people in and outside Gaza to see us and understand our struggles”

On the eve of her work being displayed at exhibitions in Gaza and in London, Samar spoke to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) about challenges she and others with disabilities face and are exposing through their photographs.

Samar is a 36-year-old woman from Gaza. Born with Glaucoma, a condition that damages the  optic nerve and progressively worsens, Samar had a partial visual impairment through her life until 2013, when she completely lost her sight. Months before this, Samar sought medical treatment outside Gaza, but the Israeli authorities rejected her permit three times without giving any reason.

Samar graduated from the Islamic University in Gaza with a Bachelor’s Degree in Counselling and Education.

“I was working as a legal facilitator for the rights of people with disabilities in an institution in Gaza. But when the condition of my eyes deteriorated, my employers did not even bother to tell me that I couldn’t keep my job anymore, they just instantly hired someone else. I was overwhelmed already with the fact that I lost my sight, and I had no energy to fight for my job.

“Afterwards, I became a dependent individual in all aspects of my life. I have no financial income, I cannot leave the house without a companion, and I was no longer allowed to marry and create my own family. Even though I met a nice man, and we decided to get married, my father refused for many reasons: first that the man is also blind, and second because he believed that I am not supposed to marry. I am not the only woman with a disability to be deprived her right of marriage by her own family; I think it is a common issue.”

Samar is one of 16 participants in the photography project supported by MAP with local partners Nusirat and the Social Development Forum. “This project is special and creative. I love the idea of documenting our daily struggles by simple photos with captions. I believe it is the first time that people with disabilities are empowered to take photos in order to advocate for their rights on the local and international level. I am excited for the photo exhibition in both Gaza and London [on International Day of People with Disabilities, 3 December 2019]. Though we will be explaining our photos via video in London, I wish some of us could travel outside Gaza with all our photos, and explain our struggles in person - as people with disabilities living in Gaza. I think that would be more powerful.”

Samar is optimistic about the project, “I think that these photos can send our messages to a wide range of people, and hopefully our lives can get easier. People should see and hear our daily sufferings and our society should understand our needs, including the need to modify streets to make public spaces more accessible for us.”

Samar continued: “As people with disabilities we suffer from the Israeli occupation and the blockade, but we also suffer from the Palestinian society that refuses to see us as citizens with full rights with the potential to be productive. Due to the Israeli occupation, we are unable to leave Gaza and we are unable to receive the needed treatment and get the needed assistive devices. Due to our harsh society, we are unable to be employed, or get married or have a chance to participate in recreational activities. We are sentenced to imprisonment in our houses. The society perceives us, women with disabilities, as disqualified to be wives, mothers or colleagues. It is true that we have disabilities. It is true that I cannot see. But with the right adaptations we can be as productive as anyone else in society. I want this project to be the start for people in Gaza and outside Gaza to see us and understand our struggles. We should not be left on the margin. With an inclusive society, we have a lot of potential to prosper and make a positive change in our society.”

We will be releasing the photographs online at the end of February.

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