EAST JERUSALEM, 22 November 2010 – In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, military occupation sets the tone of daily life. Children of all ages must cope with violence, confinement, lack of opportunity and economic hardship.
It is here that UNICEF’s psycho-social teams step in, providing tools to help families handle the situation. “Our motto is ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,’” says UNICEF psycho-social expert Laila Atshan.
Blind herself, Ms. Atshan is no stranger to hardship. “We work with them to maintain their sanity,” she explains. “We try to give room for playfulness.”
Living with uncertainty
In the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, some families have already lost their homes and others are at risk of being evicted. “This has affected children badly,” says Ms. Atshan, “When the home is gone in minutes and the parents can’t protect the family, it affects every aspect of family life.”
Nariman Farhan lives in a two-bedroom house, with 19 other family members squeezed into this small space. Just outside the door, where she has carefully planted an array of flowers and cacti, conflict awaits. The family is under a court order to leave.
Ms. Farhan’s daughter Huda, 12, sums up the situation: “They want to take the home from us. We want to stay. It’s scary,” she says.
Relief through play
“Children in Huda’s condition typically have problems concentrating, are fearful and believe that anything can happen to them”, explains psycho-social counsellor Roula Obeid, who works with the YMCA, a UNICEF partner in East Jerusalem.
To address these problems, UNICEF and its partners – with funds from the European Commission humanitarian aid department, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Bank of Palestine and others – emphasize play therapy to help children express themselves.
Siblings Walid, 15, Ahmad, 12, and Nadine Idkedek, 10, know they could be evicted from their home at any time. But their eyes light up when they are asked about a trip they took to the beach with the YMCA. “You should have seen them in the water playing,” says Amal al-Qassem Abu Hasnah, President of the Women’s Forum of Sheikh Jarrah. “It was a complete change.”
Making a difference
UNICEF-supported psycho-social teams in the Occupied Palestinian Territory support children and caregivers in various ways – through group counselling sessions, individual counselling, emergency interventions, non-formal education and peer-to-peer counselling. Ultimately, however, the psycho-social response is secondary to resolving the problem of displacement.
”We are deeply concerned that children whose parents and grandparents have already endured episodes of large-scale displacement should remain subject to the humiliation resulting from forced evictions and home demolitions,” explains UNICEF Special Representative Jean Gough, commenting on families in Sheikh Jarrah.
But until evictions and home demolitions are brought to an end, UNICEF seeks to make a difference in these family’s lives.