“There are children who are bed wetting, there are kids who are chewing their fingers and not only their finger nails but toe nails as well. There are boys who are aggressive or withdrawn. We have got little girls who are over anxious and suffer from acute separation anxiety.” Kate Bean, psycho social consultant at DanChurchAid (DCA) as well as FinnChurchAid (FCA) explains.
The critical situation of children is the outcome of seven weeks of Israeli land, air and sea raids on the Gaza strip between July 3rd and August 26th, 2014. OCHA reported that the psychosocial stress caused by the war has deeply affected children, who constitute over half of Gaza’s population, with at least 373,000 children identified in September, 2014 as in need of psychosocial support.
In response to the conflict and the overwhelming trauma impacted on children, the local NGO Youth Empowerment Center (YEC) in Gaza discontinued its psycho social support project "SANED" and adopted an emergency response which is funded by DCA/FCA.
YEC, which is an organization working with children aged between 6 and 12 years initially started its work after the cease fire was declared between Israel and Gaza in 2009, where they opened three centers in northern Gaza (Jabalya refugee camp, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya) helping children suffering from trauma and developmental delay, requiring psycho social support.
YEC has three centers in Gaza. Each center receives about 100 children a day, 50 for the morning shift and 50 for the afternoon shift. The program runs for 10 weeks and includes a 2 week orientation., YEC's experience indicates that most children coming to the center demonstrate significant improvements within two months, at which stage they are ready to return to school; however some children need more time and extend their time in the center. This is assessed on a case-by-case basis through regular team meetings at the centers.
A key project objective for YEC is to promote the stabilization and resilience of children with psycho social distress by providing them with a safe place where boys and girls can play, learn, interact and share activities in an environment that promotes gender equality. The emergency project targets 1,200 children. The project aims to assist them return to normal functioning at home and at school. Many children are manifesting trauma through fear, anxiety, insomnia, hyperactivity and bed wetting.
The children participate at the centers in a structured program which integrates psycho social support with developmental goals. In practice this means that children are involved in creative activities which address their psycho social issues as well as educational.
According to Kate, many children exhibit developmental delay during times of stress and this impacts on their ability to assimilate knowledge at their previous level. In turn this leads to increased stress and distress. Developing their educational skills with their self-confidence and self-esteem, and resilience, is managed simultaneously at YEC.
Approximately 1,400 mothers and caregivers receive direct support to deal with issues related to the daily impact of children dealing with post war trauma.120 key change agents such as kindergarten teachers; school counsellors, active mothers and civil society leaders receive training in early childhood development, psychosocial issues and practical strategies to support their children and students.
25 YEC staff are trained on psychosocial support strategies and methodologies to enhance community coping strategies and resilience.
“Our work is not just psychosocial; it is working with families, it is building resilience and developing coping strategies,” Kate says.
Dunya Abu Odeh, 8-years old, lost her concentration after the war and she can no longer focus on things around her. She has also become more aggressive and has been hitting her younger sister.
“YEC helped Dunya to release her stress, it is the only place where she can play and express herself. I can feel she is a child again at YEC as they entertain them and discharge their anger and stress.” Dunya’s mom says.
“We play in YEC, we sing, we draw and the teacher plays with us. I love YEC” Dunya says.
It was not an easy task for Dunya to explain her feelings regarding the war, but she clearly stated that she missed the swing in the backyard of her demolished house.