Ahmed Al-Madhoum, 21

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My family owned a garment-making factory that was established in 1995. The factory employed about 40 people. I have three brothers and a sister, and our economic situation was good until 2006 when the blockade and division started. We were forced to stop work when Israel banned exports. There were too many factories to serve the Gaza market, and materials used in production became expense. The factory went bankrupt, and all of the workers lost their jobs.   

In my family, there are four sons, and my oldest brother worked in the factory. My father and brother had to stop working in the factory. This was the sole profession for us. My older brother could no longer help with the house income. This was the same for my other relatives. It wasn’t just my father that lost his income. All of our family lost their income.   

When this happened, three of us were school students. I was forced to start working the market at a young age. I started selling clothes when I was 15 years old.

Ahmed Al Madhoum
In 2007 the garment industry accounted for 17 percent of Gaza’s GDP. Because of the blockade, 87 percent of garment factories have closed.

At the same time, I was studying and also started volunteering with a [nongovernmental organization]. I was doing three things—working in the market, studying, and volunteering. This helped me gain lots of work experience, and I was offered a part-time job. Now I work in marketing with NGOs, in the regular market, I am continuing my education, and I am helping my younger siblings.   

My father now tries to work as a trader, but it is very hard for him and there is no work. He had worked all his life in the garment business together with his brothers. He is 55 years old and his experience is in the garment business.   

In addition to the factory closing, the machinery from the factory lost value. The factory now sits full of garbage, and the machines are out of date and garbage. For my father, this is very hard. These were not just machines; they were his life, they were like his wife.   

Before the factory was closed, my family was well off. We could buy what we wanted. I could go to clubs. I played soccer. I could go out. Then in one day, we didn’t have an income. We became poor and I had to take on responsibilities and work. I had to help take care of my family.   

Life now is not easy.  But what we do now, what we are able to achieve now—despite all of the suffering—is remarkable. If we can live now, we can do anything. Life is hard, but it continues and we work. I believe in opportunities.  

There is a saying that “you fall down standing”—that is, you may be down but you are not broken. That is us.