BRAVE students and educators break a violent cycle in Palestinian schools
Building Resilience and Addressing Violence from Early years through Adolescence (BRAVE)
Palestinian children are not only exposed to the violence resulting from the occupation and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They also witness violence at home and among their peers at school.
In 2018, UNICEF found that nearly two out of three students had witnessed physical violence at school and more than 90 per cent of Palestinian children had experienced psychological aggression or physical punishment.
When adults are violent with children, they put them in physical danger while also damaging their sense of self and wellbeing. Children then often bully each other and fight at school, transforming the learning environment into a place filled with fear and abuse.
BRAVE is a UNICEF programme funded by the Government of Finland, which addresses this negative cycle by coaching parents, educators and children, teaching life skills strategies for handling stress, communicating with each other, and identifying students that are struggling with overwhelming problems.
“Previously, we used tough methods with the students, like deducting grades and punishing them. This created a huge wall between us and them,” says Aya Al-Saqqa, who teaches art at Abdullah Al-Dahyan School in the Gaza Strip.
“After the training, our relationship with the students became more friendly. It changed my life and the way I deal with teachers, administrators, and the people around me. I also use these methods with my children and husband, particularly my daughter in high school, and I became more understanding and interacting. I even used these methods with my younger child and stopped punishing him. This benefited him greatly—his personality developed, and he excelled in his studies without me forcing him to do his homework.”
 “UNICEF calls for the protection of all children amidst increased violence in the State of Palestine and Israel,”
29 January 2023, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-calls-protection-all-children-amidst-increased-violence-state-palestine-and
LIFE SKILLS TRAINING
The life skills training provided for educators was conducted by 60 mental health counsellors in 10 different schools that were identified as having high rates of violence through surveys conducted throughout the West Bank. Teachers were trained in coping strategies, communicating and showing empathy, and identifying and assisting students that might be experiencing abuse or violence.
Students were then also trained to participate in a committee to help peers that are struggling or acting violently.
“We used to believe that violent students were “bad” people,” says eleventh-grader Tasneem. “But now we understand that they are exposed to difficulties and challenges in their lives that cause them to act like that. We learned how to contain and direct them to the right path, as well as how to identify and face the problem."
The student committee at Abdullah Al-Dahyan discussed some of the drivers of violence in school. They felt that many students were imitating behaviours that they had learned at home, and as a result, launched an awareness campaign for parents about violence at home.
They also created a safe space in the school that is decorated with the students’ artwork and crafts, providing an outlet for their creative energies and a place to go to relax and release their stress.
Students—one in each classroom—learned peer mediation techniques to help other students and prevent violence from recurring before getting the school counsellor involved.
“When we started designing the initiative, I was blown away by the students' creativity and the wonderful and positive ideas they presented,” says the Abdullah Al-Dahyan school counsellor, Mariam Al Talian, I motivated them and guided them. They observed during the initiative that there are reasons that students resort to violence, such as psychological pressure or family problems, and now they are doing everything they can to contain the situation before coming to me.”
In one remarkable case, students told the counselor about a classmate who had been acting very aggressively towards her peers. When the counselor investigated, she found that the girl was facing physical abuse at home from her father, and that her parents had separated as a result of domestic violence. The counselor was able to intervene with the family to encourage the father to change his behavior. She also worked with the girl, encouraging her to express her feelings in art, for which she had a huge talent. She even won an award at the school exhibition. Her father attended the show with pride.
“I use drawing to release negative energy,” says another high school student, Heba. “Whenever I observe myself getting angry, I start drawing and release all my negative energy into a unique piece of art.”
Students at the school said the BRAVE training has changed the school environment, helping them to form better relationships with their teachers and to overcome the challenges they face in their daily lives.