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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
31 August 2015

Care and support, confidence, and self-expression transform Gaza children’s outlook
Salam, 15, is looking at the mirror in her home in the village of Abassan, southern Gaza Strip.
Gaza, State of Palestine, 31 August 2015 – Salma, a 15-year old adolescent girl, lives in the Gaza Strip, where poverty is rampant and the threat of violence and political turmoil is a daily hazard. For the past 12 months, she has insisted on sleeping in her mother’s bed as she was too frightened to go to sleep alone after the 2014 escalation of conflict.

But as the memories of the war faded, one of Salma’s biggest problems – at least what she thought about every day – was something more commonplace: Her school is far from home and often she would arrive late for class, only to be admonished sharply and at times physically punished by her teachers. There was one teacher in particular that shouted at her, and berated her. As a result Salma was sullen and tearful, seeking any excuse not to go to school.

Salma started attending UNICEF-sponsored life skills activities at a Family Centre at the Abassan Rural Development Society, where she gained the self-confidence to do something about this problem that was beginning to stand between herself and her right to education. At the Centre, Salma made friends, played sports and educational games, learned about child rights, and practiced self-expression.

As a result, she and a group of other children went to their school counsellor and asked for help. They requested the teacher mistreatment to be addressed, in line with the 2013 Non-Violence in School Policy ad Positive Discipline, and asked the school to conduct awareness-raising sessions on verbal abuse and how it affects both children and teachers.

“The activities at the Centre help children to overcome the challenges in their relationships with their parents and talk about things that hurt them, both at home and outside,” explains Coordinator Hussam Al Madhoun. “This protects children since they learn about their rights and responsibilities, and learn to express themselves and seek support when needed.”

Since January 2015, 167 children (62 girls and 105 boys) were supported through a new UNICE- supported case management process launched by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Through, the 24 UNICEF-backed Family Centres, over 64,000 children have benefitted from child protection services, and 440 children have been counselled through specialized mental health services.

Nearly 30,000 adults have also been given counselling and attended structured psychosocial activities, while tens of thousands of other children and adults have learned about the dangers of child labour, and participated in children/caregiver interaction and life skills-based education.

“I learned from the leadership activity to depend on myself and not to depend on others for everything,” says Salma. “Now I am more outgoing and can talk about issues that concern me, and have the confidence to say something when I do not like something or feel something is wrong.”

Salma’s family also participated in the activities, and those working with her saw how her self-esteem increased and her mood and attitude transformed. The young girl has a medical condition calledvitiligo, which makes the skin on her face blotchy and discoloured. Besides feeling self-conscious about her appearance, Salma often said she didn’t like her name, which she believed was old-fashioned.

With encouragement from caring and attentive adults, however, Salma changed her outlook. One of the activity coordinators has a daughter named “Salma” and through the positive association, Salma began to appreciate her name.

Poverty stricken

UNICEF GAZASalma participates in recreational activities during a picnic organized by her Family Centre
Poverty in the Gaza Strip is widespread, with 57 per cent of the population food insecure. The blockade prevents the movement of goods in and out of the territory, driving unemployment up. Child labour and early marriage are serious problems, as families struggle to survive.

In the summer of 2014, 50 days of fighting left more than 500 children dead and more than 3,000 injured. Children like Salma have seen numerous wars in their lives, and many struggle with fear, insecurity and self-esteem problems.

Only after she began the psychosocial activities was Salma able to let go of her own fear and return to sleeping in her own bed; this has started to normalise her situation.

“Working in the child protection field has changed our way of thinking and the ways we deal with things professionally and at home,” says Coordinator Al Madhoun. “Now if we see a violation of child rights, we react instantly, as we believe it is our role. Our belief in what we are doing has also become stronger as we see the impact on the children we are supporting.”

UNICEF supports this psychosocial programme through its partnership with MA’AN Development Centre and Tamer Institute, and with the kind financial support of Mr. Wissam Al Mana, providing support to 13 out of the 24 UNICEF-supported Family Centres, bringing back normalcy to nearly 35,000 children’s lives.

“I could not have gone back to school without the support received at Abassan Centre’”, adds Salma with a smile.

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