Even as Israeli troops have launched a ground offensive, a group of five nuns from the Missionaries of Charity silently hold out in war-torn Gaza. Among them is a nun from Orissa.
The nuns, who live in the Latin Convent in Zeiturn, Gaza City, have over 24 differently-abled children and 15 aged women under their care. Speaking to The Sunday Express over the phone, Sister Belfina, the Sister Superior at the Convent, says they are “not going anywhere”, war or no war.
“Everything is fine… We are all safe. We often hear the bombings in the distance. It happens more frequently at night, but not so much during the day. The Israelis are bombing Hamas bases on the borders. But our Latin Convent is right in the middle of Gaza City, so we have not been hit by the war yet,” she says in a soft, calm voice.
“We have taken the Fourth Vow — of giving wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor, no matter what the circumstances. We are privileged to serve in Gaza, which is one of the poorest places in the Middle East. As for the raids, we have got used to the sound of the bombs exploding. We have learnt to live with it,” she says.
Stating that one of the nuns, Sister Liliet, is from India, she hands her the phone. “Yes, I am Liliet… I am from Orissa… I have been serving in the Middle East for a long time. I came to Gaza a year ago,” says Sister Liliet.
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“The Indian office in Ramallah has been calling often, sometimes four times a day, to check on me. It offered to arrange for my passport and papers so that I can return to India… But I don’t want to go back,” she says.
“The bombings have caused a lot of damage… the borders are closed. People’s houses are being destroyed, especially in villages like Beit Lahiya and Khan Younis on the border. Most of the children in our convent are from these villages. Their parents
leave them here so that they are safe and are fed properly. Others who lose their homes in the air raids take shelter in UN schools which provide food,” says Sister Liliet.
Sister Belfina, who is from Slovakia, was posted in the Kolkata office of the Missionaries of Charity last year. Having served in the Middle East earlier, between 2005 and 2009, she was sent to Gaza last month, just as tensions were mounting between Israel and Palestine. “The weather in Gaza reminds me of Calcutta,” she says, “Gaza is near the sea, so it is very hot and humid, just like Calcutta used to be.”
She says she has been getting “random calls” from the Israeli military asking them to vacate the church complex. The nearly 200 Christians who used to come to pray in the church have stopped turning up.
Asked how they provide for their wards, Sister Belfina says she goes shopping once a fortnight for dry rations. “The air bombings usually happen at night, so most shops are open in the morning,” she says. For the daily stock of bread, meat and milk, they depend on Jaodat, their 25-year-old Muslim neighbour.