“Make a difference for the children and the world”
By Indra Kumari Nadchatram
KUALA LUMPUR, 29 January 2009 – On a balmy morning not so long ago, nine-year old Dhanya Ashley avidly raised her hand, resolute that her young voice will be heard. She had a simple message for leaders who were determined to bring peace to the battered Gaza Strip.
“Please, please continue what you are doing,” appealed Dhanya to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders. “It will make a difference for the children and the world.”
The standard three student from Malaysia’s Convent Bukit Nanas Primary School had earlier joined 800 of her school mates aged seven to 12 to learn more about the “To my Friend in Gaza” project.
Conceptualised by Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, the project revolves around a simple idea – for children in Malaysia to produce letters, postcards and drawings that carry messages of love and support for their peers in Gaza. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will help deliver the letters through its office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Battling inner fears
“Some 840,000 children in Gaza are now battling their own inner fears and insecurity,” shared UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei, Mr Youssouf Oomar. “For three weeks, these children witnessed incursions and violence on a daily basis. Afraid to venture out and cowered in their homes without food, water or electricity – this is not how any child should live.”
Feelings of distress, helplessness and insecurity are all too common for children who witness violence. UNICEF is working to establish safe spaces to deliver psychosocial support and recreational activities, while facilitating a return to school program to enable children to interact, play, rebuild their routines and overcome stress.
“We need to remind children that they are children and they are not alone. We hope that the letters from children in Malaysia will reinforce these messages and help Gaza’s children live through this cycle of their life in a positive way,” Mr. Youssouf added. “We also hope this exercise will help children in Malaysia appreciate the values of friendship and peace.”
"Your happiness will come"
According to UNICEF, psychosocial interventions are just as important for children who are left distressed and confused by TV and newspaper images of children suffering as a result of war. A chance for these children to express themselves creatively and communicate with war’s child victims are ways to allay their fears while developing positive values of non-violent problem solving.
‘To My Friend in Gaza’ invites parents and teachers to help children in Malaysia write letters, cards, postcards or drawings to show children in Gaza that they are thinking of them, wishing them well and praying for their safety. Works should be sent to “To My Friend in Gaza”, c/o 48, Jalan Terasek Dua, 59100 Kuala Lumpur by February 20.
For Dhanya, the project is a treasured chance to extend a hand of friendship to her peers living thousands of miles away in the ruins and rubble of what were once homes and schools. Particularly concerned for all the children in Gaza who have lost mothers and fathers in the conflict, the little girl with the big heart shared her poignant message of hope for them.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your parents will always be there with you in your hearts. One day, your happiness will come.”
Crisis in Gaza
UNICEF Malaysia's Representative Appeal