Mustafa Shareif, 26, thought it would take five years for his dream of getting married and starting a family to come true.
The now father of a two-month-old baby boy got married in the summer of last year. After struggling to cover the high cost of the marriage, he received a grant that aided him in covering expenses. Traditional expenses entail paying a dowry of approximately $4,000, preparing a wedding ceremony with a banquet in a rented hall, as well as the financial ability to secure an apartment and a stable income to provide for the necessities of a family.
“If I were to mainly rely on my meager income, it would have taken me five years or so before I could become a husband or a father,” Shareif explained. He runs a small shop for repairing broken mobile phones, rendering his income unstable and unable to bear the costs of marriage.
Shareif was one of many youth who benefited from grants provided by non-governmental organizations in the United Arab Emirates who sponsored weddings in Gaza last summer. The funds granted to young couples estimate $3,000 to $4,000 each; an amount Sharief said was helpful in covering costs. “After receiving the funds, I completed the dowry for my fiancée and paid for the hall and the banquet for our big day,” Shareif said.
Gaza’s crippled economy leaves more and more graduates unemployed and incapable of achieving economic independence, which in turn prevents them from forming secure and stable marriages. Every year, 32,000 students graduate from Gaza schools, only to face bleak prospects of ever finding jobs, leaving the Gaza Strip with soaring unemployment rates that reach up to 70% among youth.
In response, some local and foreign charities launched programs to aid in mitigating the social crisis resulting from the suffocating Israeli restrictions.
Salama el-Awadi initiated his own program in this regard. He is the presenter of a charitable audio program at one of the local radio stations in Gaza. His program offers a platform for underprivileged youth looking to get married to introduce themselves and appeal to his listeners.
“We present our guests and narrate their stories to show how they did their best but could not succeed in surmounting the obstacles that stopped them from getting married,” el-Awadi said.
These touching stories encourage philanthropists to donate to people in need and help them finish all the preparations for their marriage festivals. The presenter notes that the program has received numerous cases, a testament to how terrible the situation is for youth in Gaza. The program’s team has given priority to the most dire of cases.
“We wish we can help all of them, but we cannot. We have our criteria in selecting those who most need our help, based purely on financial factors. We then introduce them to the charitable community to grant them non-repayable funds,” he added.
Mueen el-Srhed was one of those who shared their stories on air.
“I had no option but to ask for their help, and I do not regret it. Their grant helped me overcome my financial difficulties regarding my marriage,” said el-Srhed. “Our society is very caring and communal, which is why such an initiative would succeed in helping those in need.”
The impact of the relentless Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza not only impedes on social life vis-à-vis marriages, but has also caused a remarkable increase in divorce. In 2014, divorces significantly increased in the community, due to the acute housing crisis which resulted from the brutal Israeli onslaught waged on the Strip that year. Having an apartment allows newly wed couples to start a comfortable life together, but the destruction of infrastructure has robbed countless families of shelter and normalcy. If families were to resort to rented apartments, they would have to pay $300 for rent at the end of every month, conditions that many people are not able to afford.
According to the figures of the Housing Ministry in Gaza, at least 250,000 housing units are desperately needed to ease the severe housing crisis in the Strip.
It is not only about money
Various social charities in Gaza address needs in different forms. Mohammed Jaber got married a year ago and he still has to pay back his loans which he borrowed from a local organization.
“I was not lucky enough to register at a charity that offered donations, so I looked for one that could lend me money. I received a loan that I have to pay back in monthly installments over the course of two years,” Jaber said.
Despite the heavy debts his marriage has left him in, the 27-year-old said that he did not have any choice but to resort to such a charity if he wanted to get married.
In fact, some charity organizations and benevolent figures try to aid aspiring couples in ways not necessarily related to their financial needs. Adham el-Balouji is the director of one of these social charities, and encourages families to work communally towards forming successful marriages.
“Marriage is not about money. It is to bring up well-educated and well-mannered generations that would constitute a stable and civilized social fabric,” el-Balouji said.
His charity offers free courses for couples planning to get married, giving them professional advice on how to solve their problems and enjoy a happy marriage. This is driven by collective attempts to confront the drastic increase in divorce in the Gaza community.