Disabled Gaza couple make dolls, costumes to give their children ‘decent life’
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Disabled Gaza couple make dolls, costumes to give their children ‘decent life’

Nihad and Zeinab Jarboa vow not to give up even as coronavirus crisis reduces their business by 75%

Disabled Gazan couple Nihad Jarboa, 37, (L) and his wife Zeinab, 35, sit on their wheelchairs as clients try on cartoon-inspired costumes stitched by them, at their home in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Disabled Gazan couple Nihad Jarboa, 37, (L) and his wife Zeinab, 35, sit on their wheelchairs as clients try on cartoon-inspired costumes stitched by them, at their home in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

With skilled fingers, disabled Gazan couple Nihad and Zeinab Jarboa have supported themselves by sewing finely detailed dolls and costumes, but the coronavirus has hurt their already meager income.

Making a living is a challenge for all residents of the Israeli- and Egyptian-blockaded territory, which is ruled by Palestinian terror group Hamas and where the poverty rate exceeds 50 percent.

But the Jarboas face added adversity.

Nihad, 37, has been physically disabled since childhood while Zeinab, 35, had both feet amputated after contracting a rare disease while giving birth to her second child.

Both use wheelchairs, further limiting their work options in the Gaza Strip, where the unemployment rate is above 50 percent, according to official statistics.

The Jarboas have perfected a craft of making dolls and costumes inspired by cartoon characters.

They generate a modest income by selling the dolls and by sending costumed performers to nurseries and schools.

Zeinab Jarboa ,35, a Palestinian with a physical handicap, sits on her wheelchair as she stitches a cartoon-inspired costume at her home that she shares with her husband and two children, in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Before the pandemic, “we sold around 20 to 30 dolls a month at 10 shekels ($2.90 dollars) a piece,” Nihad told AFP.

They also charged about 20 shekels (around $6) each to send actors to perform at events.

“But everything stopped with the pandemic,” he said.

Access to Gaza was already tightly controlled by Israel and Egypt before the virus, which has left 78 confirmed infections and one dead in Gaza. Israel says the purpose of the blockade is to prevent Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry to use against the Jewish state.

Hamas has imposed lockdown restrictions since March, including bans on gatherings and the closure of schools and mosques.

Won’t ‘give up’

Maher al-Tabaa, an economist at Gaza’s chamber of commerce, said COVID-19 has further weakened Gaza’s fragile economy.

“Unemployment and poverty rates are expected to increase,” Tabaa told AFP, adding that 80% of the population was already dependent on food aid.

Nihad Jarboa, 37, is surrounded by children and volunteers, one of them dressed in a costume made by him and his wife Zeinab, at a center for children with chronic disease in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 21, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Even though some restrictions have been lifted, the Jarboas said they have only received two requests for shows while doll sales are down 75 percent.

“We won’t give up, even if it’s hard,” said Zeinab as she prepared tea on a stove in their one-bedroom apartment in Rafah refugee camp of southern Gaza.

“Things are harder with coronavirus (but) I am strong enough,” she said, her hair covered with a pink scarf. “I want to raise my children so they have a decent life.”

Like nearly 50 percent of Gaza residents, the Jarboas receive food aid from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their land during the 1948 Arab-Israel war at the time of Israel’s establishment. Survivors and descendants are considered refugees by the UN, unlike other refugee populations that cannot automatically hand down that status.

But UNRWA’s support is “not enough to buy food,” said Zeinab as she sewed a brightly colored costume inspired by Donald Duck.

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