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At a glance: State of Palestine

UNICEF and ECHO support play activities to help West Bank children cope

UNICEF Image: ECHO, play activities, West Bank, children
© UNICEF video
Children play during a psychosocial activity session supported by UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department in the West Bank town of Al Jalami.

By Sobhi Jawabra

NEW YORK, USA, 21 May 2009 – Mays Shaaban, 14, often hears gunshots in Al Jalami, a town of nearly 40,000 located near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, where the barrier between the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel is a source of constant tension.

”I see soldiers all the time and hear gunshots in my neighbourhood. There are daily interruptions from soldiers in the town,” she said.

The combination of images from the recent Gaza conflict on television and the presence of soldiers in her town has had a devastating effect on Mays. Her anxiety was compounded after soldiers stopped her in the street and searched her schoolbag.

Ways to forget their fear

“It’s causing fear among the children, and some children are suffering from symptoms such as bedwetting,” said Jenin psychosocial team social worker Mohammad Khorsheed.

The Jenin psychosocial team treats many children affected by the ongoing tension in Al Jalami. Its work is supported by UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department, or ECHO.

Play is one way to help children forget their fear; about 100 children attend the community centre, where they have the opportunity to draw, dance, sing and act.

The activities focus on children who live in areas exposed to continuous invasions, as well as young Bedouins and children with disabilities.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0152/Giacomo Pirozzi
Mays Shaasban hugs her mother at the UNRWA School for Girls in Al Jalami. Group activities at the school engage children in drawing, dancing and play, and provide psychosocial support to children in need.

Help for caregivers

ECHO and UNICEF also provide help for caregivers, offering counselling to mothers so that they can help their children with the stress of living so close to the barrier. Faced with a challenging financial situation, many parents in Al Jalami have to work, but are trying their best to make time to help their children.

The sessions provide the women with a place to talk through their problems. One mother didn’t know how to deal with her teenage son, who wanted to leave school. He was so worried about his sick father that he wanted to find a job to support his family. Her other child, a daughter, married at age 15 and left school, and the mother was determined that at least one of her children would be educated.

Another mother, Manal Kmail, said she had difficulty with her son’s behaviour. She recalled, for example, that he used to tear up his school report instead of bringing it home.

Children learn coping skills

The six-week counselling programme is helping the mothers deal with their children’s problems by encouraging them to talk. Little by little, it seems to be making a difference. Ms. Kmail told the other women that her son recently brought home a school report for her to see.

Meanwhile, children like Mays who participate in the group activity sessions are learning new skills to help them cope with the problems they face.

“Playing out a traumatizing scenario with puppets is a good technique for children like Mays to express themselves,” said Samah Sadaka, a member of the health relief committee of the Jenin psychosocial team.



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