Fukhari, Gaza – Everyone at our school knows that Yehia Dahdouh is the son of Al Jazeera correspondent Wael Dahdouh.
He was in my fifth-grade science class at the Rosary Sisters School in Tel el-Hawa and the first time I called his name for attendance, he stood up promptly with a: “Yes, miss.” I remember being relieved that he seemed a kind child who laughed a lot.
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He is also an imp who cannot sit still and waits for break time impatiently so he can run off to the playground.
And he moves around fast, so fast that I would not be surprised to find him appearing in front of me, as if out of thin air, at any time.
Now Yehia, who is only 12, is much slower, his head bandaged and his heart heavy, and the last time I saw him was in a news video on Thursday as he wept over the dead bodies of his mother, brother, sister and nephew.
Then he stood awkwardly to perform the funeral prayer for them, standing tiny next to his father and doing his best to complete the motions with his bandaged elbow.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces shelled the Nuseirat area where Yehia and his family had sought refuge in Gaza. Yehia survived, but his pain must be immense.
‘I’m comfortable here’
Yehia and I formed a bond, as teachers do with the kids in their class, and he made me laugh. When he would call out “Miss!”, he would stretch it out in a way everyone in class chuckled at and got used to hearing.
He is kind of special, I love hearing him laugh and joke around. He had a “nickname” for me, where he would call me by the type of phone I have.
I laughed at that and it made me happy because I know that when a child loves someone and is not afraid of them, they can be themselves.
His father Wael was very involved in how his son was doing in school and always answered my calls and messages about Yehia.
When I told him that Yehia was doing great but could be a bit calmer, he laughed and said, “Yehia is wearing you out! I’ll talk to him and will come visit you at school.”
Yehia loves and respects his father, and I saw that after Wael’s visit, in how calm he became, but of course, I started to miss hearing him call me “Miss” the way he used to.
Fifth grade ended and imagine my surprise on the first day of the next academic year when I walked into my sixth-grade class and found Yehia there, even though he was meant to be in a different class.
“Welcome,” I said. “Why’d you move to this class?”
He told me, “I’m comfortable here, you’re my teacher, I’m used to you.”
The children of Gaza do not like wars.
The children of Gaza love their childhood and want to live it.
My students are like brothers and sisters, not just classmates, and it is such a beautiful thing to experience. They talk after school ends. They always know why a classmate is absent from school.
The gentle, strong communication between them makes me so happy.
When the news of Wael Dahdouh’s family being targeted came out, I was so anxious, searching frantically for Yehia in all the photos being circulated.
Was he OK or not?
I found out that his mother, brother and sister had been killed, and that there were members of his family missing under the rubble.
Teachers at the school began to exchange worried messages. Then we found a video of him in the hospital with a head injury.
Yehia looked so worn out and scared in that video of him being treated at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the doctors had to treat him in the corridor, with no sterilisation, and using the wrong thread to suture his head – all because the hospital was so overstretched they had run out of everything.
This is the recurring scene in every home in Gaza: Residents stay home to be safe but, suddenly, missiles fall on them, hurting their bodies with firepower and their hearts with the burning agony of separation.
I don’t know if Yehia will ever be able to get over being separated from his mother like this. I don’t think so.
The scene of him bidding farewell to his mother and crying bitterly for her soul made me cry along with him.
Is there anything worse than losing a mother and the beautiful memories you had with her, losing that kind of love and care?
And here was this child bidding farewell to his mother, brother, and sister, three of the closest people to his heart.
Yehia is alive, hopefully, his head will heal soon. He was able to say goodbye to his mother and pray for his family.
But I don’t know the extent of his pain, I can only imagine it.