Filipina mom, who fled Gaza with 7 children, reunites with Palestinian husband in UAE

She asks help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters’ school requirements

by Angel Tesorero / Khaleej Times

The Filipina mother and her seven children who escaped war-torn Gaza recently are now back in the UAE.

They took a circuitous route – evacuating first in Manila with help from the Philippine government back in November last year – before arriving in Dubai last week. The family has settled in a temporary one-bedroom apartment in Ajman, the present accommodation of the 44-year-old Palestinian father who works in Dubai.

Three girls – aged 13, 11 and 9 years old – have been enrolled at an Arabic-curriculum school in Ajman. But since the family is practically starting from scratch – after everything they had were turned into rubble in Gaza – the mother, Marlene, 45, has reached out to ask help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters who are now in Grades 8, 6 and 4.

“Sorry for asking,” the mother apologetically wrote in a WhatsApp message sent on Wednesday. “The kids are doing fine and they are back in school. But they need a laptop for their school requirements. I hope there is someone who has an extra laptop or smart tablet to spare for my daughters,” she added.

Bright kids

Marlene’s children are very studious. In fact, her eldest daughter, who is 15, won full scholarship from Aiglon College, an international boarding school in Switzerland, before the war escalated in Gaza in October last year.

“She is now waiting for her student visa and she will finish senior high school in Switzerland,” Marlene proudly said.

Two of his younger sons – aged 7 and 6, who are supposed to be in Grades 2 and 1 – however, have yet to find a school. “All nearby schools are already full,” Marlene said.

“The kids now have a routine. My daughters are picked up by the school bus at 6am and they are home by 3pm,” Marlene shared, adding: “Even my youngest, who is 3, has started reading alphabets and counting numbers.”

Finding peace

Marlene continued: “Yes, my children are now all safe but the horrors of war still haunt them. They are still struggling to find peace.”

“Because we live near the Sharjah Airport, there were many times my seven-year old would anxiously run to me after hearing the sound of airplanes. ‘Are we being followed by Israeli fighter planes?’ – my son would ask me,” added Marlene, who earlier said: “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young son to tears as it sounded like attack drones.”

Marlene and her seven children left their home in Deir Al Balah in Gaza that was bombed twice, with nothing but a single emergency bag containing all their passports. Miraculously, no one died in the attacks and no one was seriously injured, except for a shrapnel that hit Marlene near her abdomen.

Marlene’s in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because they couldn’t endure the 20-km journey to the Rafah border in Egypt. “They have surrendered their fate to God. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor and prayed,” she said.

Although a big challenge, Marlene has maintained communication with her in-laws and relatives in Gaza. “But the situation in Deir Al Balah is getting worse by the day. My sisters-in-law are trying to move to Rafah to find a way to cross the border. They heard Deir Al Balah will be next after the intensive military operations in Khan Younis and Nuseirat,” she added.

Still grateful

On the bright side, Marlene is thankful that she has reunited with her husband. She also thanked the individuals and institutions that helped her family, including the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) which took care of them when they were in Manila.

Marlene is now looking for work – her last job was as a secretary at a printing company in Sharjah before her family moved to Gaza in 2020. She said: “All my kids, except the eldest, were born in the UAE. That’s why they are not strangers here.”

Home is always Gaza

For Marlene’s children, however, home is always Gaza. She had earlier said: “Moving to Gaza turned out really good for my children. It was there that they truly found a home. They always felt they belonged. They were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy… until the war happened.”

“My children maintained contact with their cousins,” Marlene continued, adding: “Just two days ago, they had a video chat and children will always be children. Despite the raging war, you can feel the innocence and simple joy in them.

“I heard their conversation and they were all laughing. My children’s cousins also had a simple request: ‘Please send some chocolates and chips, even small candies or any sweets.” #

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This report is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.