|© UNICEF video|
|Face-painting is just one of several activites taking place at a UNICEF-sponsored recreational event for young people affected by violence in Gaza.|
By Monica Awad
GAZA, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 25 July 2008 – Every day, children and adolescents throughout the Gaza Strip suffer from the disruption of basic services and deteriorating living standards. The children of Shoka, a small Bedouin area bordering with Israel, are no exception.
Prior to the June 2008 Israeli-Palestinian truce, children here witnessed incursions and violence on a daily basis. Afraid to venture out, families cowered in their homes – many without electricity and water.
“I felt shaken and scared,” said Qasem Al Rasoud, a 12-year-old boy living in Shoka.
Feelings of insecurity and distress are all too common for children who witness violence. Often, they perform poorly in school, or drop out altogether.
“Some children have behavioural problems. Fear from sexual harassment, school drop outs and low school performance are common,” said Project Coordinator Abdel Qader Abu Jleidan of the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR).
A breakthrough for children
UNICEF is working to provide a respite from the stress and violence by scheduling recreational outings. The idea is to provide children the opportunity to play, have fun and simply be themselves.
“The most important thing for children is to remind them of that they are children, so that they live through this cycle of their life in a positive way,” said Mr. Abu Jleidan.
Recently, Qasem and 250 other children from Shoka spent the day at the beach, free of reminders of their difficult daily routine. There were potato sack races, face painting and dancing, as well as swimming in the Mediterranean.
“I have been to field trips, but nothing like this one. This time it is different, I feel safer and happier,” said Ghadeer Al Kilani, 12.
So far, over 9,600 children have taken part in such recreational activities as part of a UNICEF/PCDCR joint programme funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO).
Providing psycho-social assistance
“Psycho-social interventions are very important for children. It improves their well-being by giving them to chance to express themselves, play and interact with their peers as a means to reducing their stress” said Reem Tarazi, Project Officer, UNICEF.
In partnership with ECHO, UNICEF has provided psycho-social assistance for over 17,700 children and adolescents, as well as in-depth counseling for over 2,000. UNICEF has also helped provide socio-legal assistance to more than 1,750 children through three centres, along with setting up a toll-free hotline.
Meanwhile, as violence affects the well-being of children in the West Bank and Gaza, requests for assistance from UNICEF-supported teams continue to increase.
UNICEF and the EU