Evicted children play, sing and paint their way to recovery
KHIRBET TANA, West Bank, February 2010. For Bara’a Hanani, participating in UNICEF-supported psychosocial sessions is fun. “I really like it a lot,” says the 10-year-old girl whose house was demolished last January. “We play games, sing and draw pictures – they make us forget what was done to us.”
Bara’a was among a group of 25 children who took part in a UNICEF-supported psychosocial intervention in Khirbet Tana, a small village in the northern West Bank. In January 2010, the Israeli authorities demolished 16 homes and several other structures, including a school, at this remote village, whose population is around 250. This left 100 people, including 34 children, homeless.
When a UNICEF-supported psychosocial team visited this simple, agricultural community, they found the children suffering from anxiety, stress and fear. “Children are hurting and it is reflected in their behaviour. Some of the signs children are facing include bed-wetting, clinging (to their caregivers) and hyperactivity”, said Iman Tartir, a YMCA social worker.
“The psychosocial approach is all about supporting resilience,” says Ruth O’Connell, UNICEF Child Protection officer in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). “Palestinian children are resilient as a community, but this approach encourages communities to look at the resources that they already have and reinforces positive mechanisms that they already use – while giving them extra tools to cope during difficult times.”
Mustafa Al-Ghawi shares Bara’a’s feelings. He is one of the 20 children from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, who also participate in the psychosocial programme. For him, the best thing about the project was the pottery. “We took our feelings out on the clay,” explains the 14-year-oldboy, whose family was evicted from their home last August. “If I was angry, I could just hit the clay. It was brilliant.”
Children in this neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, like children in Khirbet Tana, need help dealing with feelings of fear, anxiety and anger. “I didn’t know how to express my emotions at what is happening here, but this group allowed me to let them out, and now I feel more in control and confident,” says 12-year-old Ahmad Al-Sabagh.
The psychosocial support project, funded from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), employed various methods such as meditation, drawing and proven trauma-management therapies to help the children deal with the intense shock of eviction. The project is implemented through 16 psychosocial support teams, each made of 25-35 social workers, who respond to emergencies including house demolitions and displacement.
Rula Obeid, a social worker who ran this six-week project for 10- to 14-year-olds at Jerusalem’s YMCA, says the results were obvious. “When the children first came, they were hyperactive, very aggressive and violent in the way they related to each other,” she explains. “But step by step they gained more control over themselves and their feelings, and they became supportive of each other.”