Gaza: "The crossings suddenly shut down and we had to completely stop working"
Alun McDonald Media and Communications Coordinator for OPTI
8th Jul 2015
Alun McDonald shares the story of how eight years of the blockade of Gaza has affected one small business.
The Houso sewing factory in Gaza started off small. Abu Hasan Houso opened it in 1990 with just five sewing machines, then passed it on to his son, Hasan, and saw it grow into a thriving business. By 2006 it employed 40 workers with 55 machines, exporting their produce to Israel, which has always been an important market for Gaza's manufacturers.
"We were exporting every day. Trade was easy and dynamic," says Hasan, now 40 years old. "Then in 2007, everything turned into a nightmare."
The Israeli blockade put severe restrictions in place preventing goods - and people - from leaving Gaza. The factory had to shut its doors.
"The crossings suddenly shut down and we had to completely stop working," says Hasan. "This was a big shock, economically and personally. I had to release all the workers. It was so painful to see 40 families lose their only source of income."
Hasan and his brothers took on casual daily work to try and earn enough to support their families, but opportunities were scarce. They increasingly relied on aid to supplement their meagre income. "It's hard to say this, but we became dependent on aid."
Today, after eight years of the blockade, Gaza's unemployment rate is the highest in the world, according to a recent World Bank report. More than 40 percent of people - and more than 60 percent of youth - are unemployed. Around 80 percent of the population receives some kind of international aid.
The factory remained closed until 2013. "We decided to partially re-open it and try to work for the local market," says Hasan, who now works with his six brothers and no other employees. "But the profit is barely enough to feed our families."
The conflict one year ago brought further suffering for the family. The factory - and their home next door - was damaged by the bombing and 20 of the sewing machines were completely destroyed.
A new Oxfam project, funded by the Disasters Emergency Committee and working with our partner the Ma'an Development Center, is now helping to kick start the business again by employing 60 workers to produce school uniforms for local children. It is part of a wider project helping people to recover their livelihoods after the conflict, during which many small businesses were destroyed.
Gaza is full of entrepreneurs and people like Hasan who could thrive if only they were allowed to. For now, the factory still relies on outside assistance, but if the blockade was lifted then businesses like Hasan's would once again be able to thrive on their own.