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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
31 October 2011

in Gaza

October 2011

In brief

• On 4 September, the “Back to school” campaign was launched in Al Kaabneh, a Bedouin community in Area ‘C’ of the West Bank. The purpose of the campaign is to highlight the challenges and threats undermining Palestinian children’s right to education. In Area ‘C’, where more than 50,000 children started their school year, 10,000 have no choice but to study in tents, caravans or tin shacks for lack.

• The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, UNFPA and UNICEF launched the results of the 2010 family survey in Ramallah on 12 September. The results showed an improvement in the overall health situation of Palestinian children and women, as compared to a survey ten years ago.

Overview: Helping children overcome distress

The environment in which two million Palestinian children live has a direct impact on their psycho-social well-being. Many children have been exposed to continuous stress and violence in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinian children who were victims of violence or directly witnessed acts of violence have often difficulties expressing their fears and anguish, which can drag on and cause long-term psychological suffering. Nothing is important than helping children overcome distress and restore well-being to their families.

Acts of violence are a daily occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territory. In the first eight months of this year alone, 15 Palestinian children were killed and 351 were injured. At the end of August, 180 Palestinian children were still detained in Israeli detention centres, with reported cases ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture.

Palestinian children also face harassment and violence from settlers, stress created by the need to cross check points on their way to school, poverty and forced displacement due to evictions and home or school demolition orders. The lack of safe play areas prevents children from accessing a space where they could let go of the pressure and relieve stress they face in their daily lives. In order to help protect and restore children’s mental health, UNICEF together with partners is running specifically-tailored psychosocial programmes in both the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which help children and their families better cope with stress and fear.

In Gaza, where over half the population is children, many too young to remember life before the blockade, 21 family centres provide psychosocial counselling with the support of local NGOS Ma’an Development Centre and Tamer Institute for Community Education. These centres provide a one-stop shop for families in their efforts to rebuild their lives, a place where children can receive psychosocial support but also play safely, receive help to stay in school and improve their learning achievements, and be taught critical life skills such as avoiding drugs and risky behaviours while participating in their communities. UNICEF used the findings of Colombia University’s psychosocial assessment report to develop psychosocial evaluation tools and better help children overcome distress.

The centres are equipped to provide emergency support. They also provide group and individual counseling and recreational activities which help the children forget about their fears and focus on something positive in order to boost their capacity to deal with violence and reinforce their resilience and coping mechanisms. Simple recreational activities are a rare opportunity in the coastal enclave. The Gaza Strip lacks the simple things that many children take for granted elsewhere in the world: safe playgrounds and green spaces.

In the first six months of 2011:

• Nearly 1,500 children in the West Bank and more than 900 children in Gaza received group counselling sessions to help them develop coping mechanisms; children in need of individual counselling were identified.
• 631 children in Gaza received individual counselling, half of whom displayed behavioural disorders.
• 72 children in Gaza received psychsocial counseling through a toll free line.
• Over 3,000 caregivers received group counseling in both Gaza and the West Bank in order to improve communication skills and equip them with tools to help protect children and themselves from violence.
• 471 children who witnessed acts of violence by settlers or Israeli security forces received emergency support in the West Bank, and 191 in Gaza.
• Ninety days of recreational activities were carried out reaching over 4,000 children in the West Bank, helping them release their stress through games and play.
• Nearly 400 psychosocial professionals participated in training sessions to better provide for children’s psychosocial well being in the West Bank and Gaza.

UNICEF psychosocial programmes are implemented in partnership with the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) in Gaza and with the Young Men Christian’s Association (YMCA) in the West Bank. The psychosocial support initiative was made possible through the financial support of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Bank of Palestine.

See more stories and videos online:

Palestinian women face political and social frustrations:

A group of women share their frustrations, their fear of social violence and their personal struggles during a counselling session provided by the YMCA in partnership with UNICEF and funding from ECHO, making invisible fault lines that crisscross the West Bank village of Bruqin rise to the surface.

Read the story:

Games and support ‘lift up’ Gaza’s children in distress

BEIT LAHIA, Gaza Strip, 1 October 2011 -- For Palestinian children in Gaza, emotions still surface three years after operation “Cast Lead”, amid an ongoing blockade that impacts the lives of all families living in the coastal enclave. While there are some signs that the economy is slightly improving, many of Gaza’s children, over half of its 1.5 million residents, are still trying to overcome the distress born from the combined effects of violence and poverty.

The sight of a dozen children playing games together in a small cement block hosting the community family centre in the northern town of Beit Lahia may seem familiar. However there are subtle signs that the woman with them is not only helping to motivate and lift their spirits, but she is also watching them carefully.

“The games really relax them,” explains 27-year-old Nashwa Abu Fuul, who has worked at the Northern Association for Development for three years. As a facilitator, her role is not only to ensure that children play peacefully, but also to screen for those who may be facing mental distress.

“Through the games, you can tell who has problems”, she says. “The girls, I often feel, are shy and sometimes you find that they are abused. The boys, on the other hand, are aggressive, and when you talk to their parents you learn that they are violent towards their siblings. The conflict and the increase in poverty since the beginning of the blockade have increased distress among children,” she adds.

In 2007, Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, restricting imports and exports to the territory and preventing the movement of people. The restrictions have crippled Gaza’s economy and as a result 80% of Palestinians in Gaza rely on humanitarian aid for their survival. The impact of the restrictions created a lot of stress in families, which had direct repercussions on children. One year later, Israeli Security Forces carried out a 22-day offensive on Gaza during which 300 children were killed, 1,600 children were left injured and many more witnessed violence. Many families were left living in damaged houses which sat unrepaired for years because cement and other building materials are not allowed to enter the strip.

Damage to houses will always be easier to fix than damages to the well-being of children. Many young souls in Gaza have still not fully recovered from the stress of the conflict. Abu Fuul recounts the story of nine-year-old Islam Abu Skhayla, nine, who cannot remember her father because she was still a baby when he was killed during operation “Cast Lead”. Islam also suffers from the separation with her mother, who as a widow was forced to leave her in-laws’ home -- in this conservative society, the widowed woman could not stay in close proximity to her husband’s brothers. Islam and her six siblings stayed behind, only allowed to see their mother one day a week. The girl’s story came tumbling out one day when Abu Fuul asked Islam why she was hanging back during a game about family.

“She feels she has no mother and no father,” says Abu Fuul. “Now we at the family centre are working on arranging that she sees her mother every other day. She and her siblings are elated.”

Fourth grader Amer Nasrallah lives across the street from the family centre and attends both psychosocial sessions and educational enrichment classes there. But he says what he loves most about the family centre are its books. The brightly-painted building houses a small library that features English and Arabic volumes, including a complete set of translated Agatha Christie mysteries.

“We hear the F-16s flying above and I get afraid,” Amer says. “When I get upset, I just sit. I don’t know what to do. Reading helps.”

Jenin Abu Jarad, also nine, lost two brothers to congenital illness, the first cause of infant mortality in Gaza according to the World Health Organization. Her father is unemployed and her mother cares for the family. The quick-spoken girl wants to study math and grow up to be a doctor.

The other day, she and her friends were on their way to the family centre when they heard a loud boom. “We didn’t know what to do, to run away or what,” she recalls. Here, close to the Barrier with Israel, violence is a regular occurrence. The family centre helps children deal with the stress in its aftermath.

This initiative, which is funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Bank of Palestine, provides hundreds of children with psychosocial support. At family centres like the one in Beit Lahia, UNICEF partners with the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) to provide more than 170 teachers, professionals and volunteers with tools to support Palestinian children and those who care for them. “This UNICEF programme lifts us up, both mentally and in practice,” says Abu Fuul. A new mother herself, her income from the centre is a crucial addition to her husband’s irregular salary as a day labourer. “It has really saved us at home,” she admits.

Contact: Catherine Weibel --
Monica Awad --
Sajy Elmughanni --

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