11 December 2012
After the recent conflict, UNRWA staff in Gaza teamed up with local communities in an effort to clean up damaged schools and help children get back to normal life. But UNRWA’s school counsellors warn that the trauma of conflict is harder to erase.
When the local UNRWA school in Shejai’ia, Gaza City, sustained damage from the targeting of a residential building across the street, community members and the staff of principal Ola Badawihas took the initiative to clean up a large amount of debris from the school and the surrounding. At one point, they even removed part of a missile from one of the classrooms. Many of the school’s classrooms have been damaged.
Principal Ola wants to record the scale of destruction in the school, but is too disturbed by it. “I cannot take pictures of it myself. I just can’t”, she says with emotion.
The long-term wounds of conflict
Raja Abdo is Shejai’ia school’s psychosocial counsellor. Since the end of the eight-day conflict, she’s been working with teachers, children and parents to support them and help them with deal with the trauma left by the attacks. It’s crucial to start with the teachers, she explains, as they cannot help the children if they are still dealing with their own trauma.
“Many are struggling themselves with issues relating to the conflict, so I use relaxation techniques with them, and listen to their problems.”
The school has already met with parents, says principal Ola, so that they can offer the emotional support their children need. Counsellor Raja is organising a series of workshops for parents to teach them the techniques of post-conflict guidance and care for children, and recognise when their child might be suffering from acute stress.
“We need to listen to the children”
The affect the conflict is most keenly felt by children, says Raja. When the school’s young students saw the damage to their classrooms, they were visibly traumatised, she says. For them, their school is a second home. Worst affected were those children who had to leave their homes during the conflict, Raja adds.
In an attempt to combat the after-effects of the conflict on that first day back at school, Raja sat with the children and asked open questions; for example, what they like best, and what they don’t like at all. The answers related mostly to the recent shellings. The children were also asked to draw whatever they like. Many depicted missiles, and crying children and adults.
The teachers at Shejai’ia have found that most of their young students are suffering from memory loss; a typical coping strategy but one that poses a challenge to normal learning, says Raja: “A conflict has a very bad effect on school achievement.”
Many of the older children remember the military bombardment of 2008/2009, and while some of them have drawn strength and an ability to cope from the experience, others are even more vulnerable and have suffered disturbing flashbacks. “The impact of the conflict varies from child to child”, Raja explains.
In her teacher training sessions, Raja advises the staff to have patience with the students; to try to get to the bottom of their feelings. To overcome the trauma of conflict, she says, “we need to listen to the children.”
This holiday season, help children in Gaza struggling with the aftermath of conflict by making a donation to UNRWA.