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Interview with Gaza Program Manager, Mohammed Sabe

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Mohammed Sabe, the Gaza Program Manager for Global Communities/CHF spent the last three days overseeing emergency food distributions for vulnerable families in Gaza. Over the three days, Mohammed and his team not only distributed aid to more than 47,500 recipients, he ensured the safety of his staff and those receiving aid.

Can you describe the planning process before the distribution took place?
The official distribution date was set for Tuesday, November 20. We were worried as the crisis was getting worse and the heavy presence of military operations. We started immediately to re-plan in case of long-term operations.

We began planning -- thinking about distribution process, what inventory and supplies are available and possible distribution locations.

One challenge was the issue of storage in Gaza. There were only 500 bags of flour enough for 800 beneficiaries for the first day only. When the border crossing opened, we received additional packages, but not much.

As late as November 19th, there was hesitancy to go ahead with the distribution considering that the security situation was getting worse and we were worried about the safety of people and staff.

What did you do to ensure the safety and security of the staff and recipients?
We started calling different organizations for information--the World Food Program (WFP), Israel Defense Forces (IDF), United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) and the International Committee Red Cross (ICRC) to define the safe coordinates where we could hold the distribution.

We started sending messages to beneficiaries in category 4, defined as the most vulnerable families. We choose the sites in Gaza City and Khan Yunis. Coupons were distributed to recipients to improve the speed and accuracy of the distribution so that the largest possible number of people could receive packages.

We were following the news every moment to see if the situation was changing.

Can you describe what happened on the distribution day?
We started at the distribution at 9 AM and were surprised by the presence of people who arrived as early as 5 AM in order to ensure they receive aid. The total distribution for the day was to more than 22,000 beneficiaries. [An additional 25,000 people received food aid on 21 and 22 November.]

Compared with distribution operations during the conflicts of 2008 and 2009, the situation was much more tense. People felt scared because the targets of the airstrikes were unknown. At one point a house was bombed, just 100 meters from the distribution site, which had a negative effect on everyone. But the CHF team continued the distribution process. People were afraid, but CHF staff were patient and courageous and took into account the circumstances.

What motivates you and the staff to work in such dangerous and challenging situations?
What makes me and the team go to work is a commitment and belief to the principles of the program. We do the work and deliver food in a timely manner and ensure the dignity of people. Even children now know a lot about aid and distribution operations and appreciate the work we do. We have created new mechanisms, we have got more experience and a better understanding of the situation and the people we serve.

People appreciate what we do and thanked us for standing by their sides. They were surprised that we were able to get to the sites, but this is the commitment expected of CHF employees. One of the beneficiaries wanted to hug one of the staff for giving him a package because of what this food means for his family.

We ensure the quality and proper storage of commodities in innovative ways. This is critical because this program is the nucleus for the establishment of a humanitarian aid unit. Our management has been successful and we keep evolving to make improvements.