After spending a week in Gaza earlier this month, Airdronian Dr. Fozia Alvi said that what she saw on the ground will stay with her for the rest of her life.

"We arrived after four months of an intense military offensive, and as of now, about two million civilians are seeking refuge in Rafah [city in Southern Gaza Strip] after being displaced from the northern regions of Gaza," Dr. Alvi said. "The enormity of the civilian casualties in Gaza that we are witnessing is simply unimaginable."

Airdrie physician, Dr. Fozia Alvi recently returned to Egypt after spending a week in Southern Gaza. (Photo provided by Dr. Fozia Alvi)Airdrie physician, Dr. Fozia Alvi recently returned to Egypt after spending a week in Southern Gaza. (Photo provided by Dr. Fozia Alvi)

Working alongside the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Alvi was able to enter Gaza through the Egyptian border, with essential medical supplies including anesthetics, antibiotics, burn dressings, as well as rehydration salts. Despite bringing over 20 suitcases of supplies, she said that the amount of supplies was completely inadequate to deal with the sheer volume of casualties.

Working alongside the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Alvi was able to enter Gaza through the Egyptian border, with essential medical supplies Working alongside the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Alvi was able to enter Gaza through the Egyptian border, with essential medical supplies. (Photo provided by Dr. Fozia Alvi)

Dr. Alvi said those working at Al-Helal Emirati Hospital in Rafah were in tears when she delivered the medication to frontline staff.

"They were very, very happy. The staff and the surgeons, when we handed it over to them, were crying."

She said that the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed at this point, with patients lying in tents in corridors of the hospital, lining the parking lots. Alongside her colleagues, Dr. Alvi worked in both the Emirati hospital, as well as mobile clinics.

"When we were working there, the were bombs falling right and left of us; and whenever the bombs were falling, the wall was shaking. We were scared and panicked," she said. "But the doctors and nurses [there], they keep on working, they're used to it."

She estimates that she was treating upwards up several hundred patients a day. 

"Besides the physical and emotional trauma of the assault, widespread malnourishment is apparent in every single individual we met. Some of these people showed us their pictures on their phones from four months ago, and we could not recognize them as the same person," she said. 

Gaza has been blockaded by both Egypt and Israel since Hamas, whom the Canadian government lists as a terror organization, came to power in the early 2000s when the political militant group narrowly won elections. Dr. Alvi said that the continued blockade of Gaza has created conditions rife for potential famine. 

Earlier this week, the Gaza Health Ministry said that more than 29 thousand Palestinians have been killed since October 7, 2023, with two-thirds of the casualties being women and children. Over 69 thousand more Palestinians have been wounded.

Dr. Alvi said the statistics are reflected in what she encountered on the ground in Gaza.

"I have seen babies with fractures; I have seen babies with sniper gunshot wounds. I saw a 40-day-old baby with a gunshot wound to her brain and both her parents were in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit]. The baby was non-responsive for two weeks," she said. "I have seen lots of children under the age of 10, with severe burn wounds due to bombing; lots of babies with brain damage with paralysis."

Conversely, over 1,200 Israelis were killed in the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas inside Israel, with another 250-some hostages having been kidnapped and taken to Gaza. 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza, despite prisoner exchanges between Hamas and Israel. A quarter of the Israeli hostages are believed to be dead. 

Now, in Cairo, Dr. Alvi reflects that even though she has travelled across the globe, including a medical mission to Bangladesh when Rohingya Muslims were pouring into the country, fleeing genocide, she said that what she experienced in Gaza is on a cataclysmic level. While thousands of patients have moved the doctor, it was one woman she treated in Gaza, that Dr. Alvi said is imprinted into her memory.  The woman's name is Riham. 

"She was almost the same age as me; maybe a little younger. She had lost one of her eyes and had one arm amputated, as well as both her legs; and she lost all her children. Just imagine for a second, what the life of that woman is like - or if we should even call it a life?" Dr. Alvi said, emotionally.

Despite the harrowing experiences, Dr. Alvi said that there is one thing, perhaps more than any other tragic scene, that she carries with her.

"What truly struck me most about Palestinians - is their unwavering, communal resilience. I was moved to see the physicians, and the nurses, who had been working tirelessly without pay for the four months. Many of these healthcare workers were themselves displaced and now they're living in makeshift tents on the streets near the hospital. I call them heroes."

One gesture struck a deep chord within her. 

"I still remember them serving us a full bowl of lentil soup, while they had a couple of tablespoons of soup in their bowl. I feel that Palestinians exemplify kindness and care for others, even amid war."

Despite efforts for a prolonged humanitarian ceasefire, Israeli forces continue to bombard the embattled enclave. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Minister Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, to discuss the situation in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

According to a news release, The Prime Minister shared his concern about Israel’s planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and the severe humanitarian implications for all civilians taking refuge in the area.

"The Prime Minister added that the protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law. The Prime Minister unequivocally condemned Hamas and its brutal attacks against Israel, including the use of civilians as human shields, and underscored Canada’s position that Hamas must lay down its arms and release all hostages immediately. The Prime Minister also stressed the need for continued support from Israel in facilitating the exit of Canadians and their families from Gaza."

When Dr. Alvi was asked about what world leaders, including Canada, should do, she said the Prime Minister should go to Gaza and see what is happening for himself.

"Just go there and see, and then see those children as his children, because I see [the] children of Gaza as my own children. I do not see any difference between the children of Gaza and children living in Canada, or children living in the U.S. or U.K. are innocent. Those children in Gaza are our children; we need to save them." 

Currently, Dr. Alvi is planning on the setting up of more mobile clinics in Gaza.

"We are in the process of setting up multiple mobile clinics because of the mobile clinic I was working in the UNRWA [The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] school, and I was seeing that the doctor that was working, was a lifeline for thousands of people. So, I want to set it up in different parts of Gaza, including Northern Gaza."

She added that if the mobile clinics were to be bombed, she would simply set up others.

"I went to Gaza to help the people of Gaza, but the people of Gaza have helped me. They have strengthened my faith in human kindness. Gaza will never leave me and I will keep on working for Gaza. No matter what," Dr. Alvi concluded. 

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