Gaza’s children find a safe space to heal
© UNICEF oPt/2009
A drawing created by Maisoun during a psychosocial support session, showing children playing carefree in the sun.
Maisoun Nimr, 15, has nightmares. She doesn’t like to talk about them – the most she will say is that she dreams scenes of war.
Like hundreds of other children in the Gaza Strip, Maisoun experienced 22 days of bombardment and military incursions when Israel began its operation in Gaza on 27 December.
UNICEF and its partner organization, the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR), are working with many of these children to return normalcy to their lives.
“Many children have sleeping disorders, bedwetting and are fearful,” says UNICEF child protection officer Reem Tarazi. “Some are still asking their mothers to accompany them to school, or to sleep in their beds. A number witnessed the killing of siblings or lost limbs that were amputated.”
UNICEF reaches 40,000 children annually with PCDCR through five psychosocial teams, each composed of around 25 social workers and counselors, that operate in all five Gaza districts. The teams provide emergency assistance immediately after emergencies, as well as ongoing psychosocial support to children and their families.
The centre also runs day trips to the beach and works with teachers and mothers to recreate safe spaces at home. “We teach them how to get children to enjoy themselves,” says assistant director Iyad Abu Hujair.
Returning to normal
Maisoun first participated in a nine-session programme where children are encouraged to express themselves and taught coping skills. Counselors working with the children during the nine sessions are then able to identify children who require more intensive group or individual counseling, and recommend to their families that they participate in these six-month programmes.
Maisoun is being counseled individually and has shown marked improvement since she first entered the programme, say the centre’s staff.
Maisoun describes the recent violence as “something unimaginable.” Her family, like thousands of others, was forced to flee from their home in Zeitoun to stay with an uncle. “Strong and weak, we were all scared,” she says of her seven siblings.
According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 1,440 Palestinians died in the Gaza operation, including 431 children and 114 women.
After living through the crisis, Maisoun is glad to have time to draw and to play with her friends at the centre. “They help us a lot,” she says. “They play with us and we get away from the conflict and its memories.”
Maisoun’s favorite activity is drawing. “I draw girls,” she says. “Every kind of girl.”
When she is no longer a girl herself, she says, she dreams of being a photographer. “You need to be brave for that kind of work,” she says, almost to herself.