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NEW YORK, USA, 21 May 2009 – Mays Shaaban, 14, often hears gunshots in Qabatiya, a town of nearly 20,000 located near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, where the barrier between the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel is a source of constant tension.
”I see soldiers all the time and hear gunshots in my neighbourhood. There are daily interruptions from soldiers in the town,” she said.
The combination of images from the recent Gaza conflict on television and the presence of soldiers in her town has had a devastating effect on Mays. Her anxiety was compounded after soldiers stopped her in the street and searched her schoolbag.
Ways to forget their fear
“It’s causing fear among the children, and some children are suffering from symptoms such as bedwetting,” said YMCA counsellor Mohammad Khorsheed.
The YMCA treats many children affected by the ongoing tension in Qabatiya. Its work is supported by UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department, or ECHO.
Play is one way to help children forget their fear; about 100 children attend the community centre, where they have the opportunity to draw, dance, sing and act.
The activities focus on children who live in areas exposed to continuous invasions, as well as young Bedouins and children with disabilities.
Help for caregivers
ECHO and UNICEF also provide help for caregivers. Mays’s mother, Manar Shaaban, is one of 15 mothers receiving counselling so that they can help their children with the stress of living so close to the barrier. Like many parents in Qabatiya, Ms. Shaaban has to work, but she is trying her best to make time to help her.
The sessions provide the women with a place to talk through their problems. One mother didn’t know how to deal with her teenage son, who wanted to leave school. He was so worried about his sick father that he wanted to find a job to support his family. Her other child, a daughter, married at age 15 and left school, and the mother was determined that at least one of her children would be educated.
Another mother, Manal Kmail, said she had difficulty with her son’s behaviour. She recalled, for example, that he used to tear up his school report instead of bringing it home.
Children learn coping skills
The six-week counselling programme is helping the mothers deal with their children’s problems by encouraging them to talk. Little by little, it seems to be making a difference. Ms. Kmail told the other women that her son recently brought home a school report for her to see.
Meanwhile, children like Mays who participate in the group activity sessions are learning new skills to help them cope with the problems they face.
“Playing out a traumatizing scenario with puppets is a good technique for children like Mays to express themselves,” said YMCA counsellor Samah Sadaka.