UNICEF and ECHO support counselling to help Gaza’s children face the future
By Lóa Magnúsdóttir
GAZA, occupied Palestinian territory, 21 April 2009 – Plastic sheets cover the windows of the small house where Mona, 17, lives with her parents and five younger siblings. The house was heavily damaged during the conflict in Gaza that ended earlier this year.
But it is not the broken windows or damaged walls that weigh most heavily on this family. Instead, it is the fact that in January, Mona lost her leg when shrapnel hit the shelter where she and her family were staying during the most intensive aerial bombardments of Gaza.
The conflict in Gaza, which occurred between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, took a great economic, social and psychological toll on children and families. Many witnessed the deaths of caregivers, siblings and friends. All border crossings were virtually sealed; children and their families had nowhere to run, no refuge from the violence.
Difficulty in finding safety
As the shelling got increasingly intense, Mona's father decided to move his family out of the house.
“The family was terrified, the children were screaming, I did not know how to calm them down,” he recalls. After fleeing the shelling from house to house for a few days, never finding a safe location for the children, the family moved to a UN shelter.
Ten days in a shelter
Children accounted for roughly a third of the dead and wounded due to the hostilities; 431 children were killed and 1,872 children were left injured.
It is further estimated that up to 30 per cent of people injured, including 560 children like Mona, sustained severe injuries that without proper rehabilitation could result in permanent disability.
'We had a happy life'
“Before the invasion, we had a happy life, we used to have a garden, a very nice garden. Me and my other brothers and sister used to play in it, but after the war, this garden is gone,” says Sarah. “It disappeared with everything that used to be in it. It was replaced with destruction. Now, our life has turned into hell and is full of sadness.”
Counselling, along with the chance to play with her friends, is helping Sarah to come to terms with her loss. “I started to attend and found that all my friends are here. My life changed and is better than before. My friends shared my grief,” she says.
Waking up to a new reality
Mona has been receiving counselling from the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR), supported by UNICEF and ECHO. She has also been able to call a UNICEF-supported toll-free hotline.
“I feel more relaxed when I speak to the support person on the toll-free line. It helps me to discharge my feelings and emotions,” Mona says.
For Mona, the support from the PCDCR counsellor’s home visits has provided her with an outlet for her emotions and given her a greater sense of normalcy. The counsellor has encouraged her to be patient in the face of her ordeal, as Mona will have to put her dreams of going to university on hold until she is able to obtain the treatment and rehabilitation she so desperately needs.
In Gaza, where medical facilities are plagued by access restrictions and patient referrals abroad are no longer an option, Mona and other children like her face an uncertain future.