Children’s dreams amidst Gaza’s tragedy
Seeking hope amidst the destruction and despair
In a world where children dream of becoming astronauts, soccer players or doctors, there exists a place where the dreams of children take on a far more basic nature. In the Gaza Strip, children dream of an end to the horror of conflict, to return to their homes, and the simple pleasure of having enough bread to eat and share with their families.
Being children, their dreams are woven with threads of hope, tied to the prospect of regaining a semblance of normalcy in their lives. "What I miss the most is going to school. My only current dream is for this war to cease, and for the world to send us the much-needed bread," says Kenan, a 10 years-old boy as he patiently waits in line at a local bakery, enduring queues for 5 or 6 hours to fetch bread for his family.
Many children, like Kenan, have taken on the role of adults and are trying to help their families get food and safe water during the ongoing hostilities.
Eight-year-old Salwa and her family had to flee from Gaza city and are now displaced in Rafah. She should be in a classroom, pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse, but her days are now consumed by the unrelenting quest for safe water to keep her loved ones alive. Salwa's emotions run deep, and she hopes that no child has to endure the same harsh circumstances that she faces. "I love all children, and I don't want them to die like we are,” says Salwa, words that should never have to come from an 8-year-old girl.
The dreams of children in the Gaza Strip have turned into nightmares. Children live in constant fear and uncertainty as to whether they will ever be able to return to their homes and re-build their lives. “I dream of a future where I can live without the constant fear of being killed," says, Rahaf, a 10-year-old girl, while helping her father brew hot tea over a wood fire, a necessity brought about by the scarcity of fuel, cooking gas, and electricity.
Prior to the current crisis, more than 543,000 children from the Gaza Strip were identified in need of some form of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). Frequent exposure to hostilities and regular insecurity heightened their sense of daily anxiety The massive escalation in conflict has only exacerbated their mental health issues, shattered their dreams and hopes and expanding their need for critical child protection services. Fear is a constant shadow that looms over their lives, causing them to question their very survival from one day to the next, and profoundly impacting emotional and mental health.
Ahmad, a 14-year-old boy who fled his home in Jabalia to escape the bombardments, stands as a voice for children in the Gaza Strip. While he still holds onto his dreams, his priorities have shifted dramatically. "I once wanted to become a doctor, but now my most fervent dream is simply to stay alive.” Ahmad declares. He speaks on behalf of the children of the Gaza Strip, hoping that his strong words will reach the world’s ears: "My message to the world is to end the violence in Gaza. We are children, just like children everywhere else in the world.”
Education services in the Gaza Strip have collapsed since the major hostilities began, ending learning for more than 625,000 students. The absence of formal education, coupled with the loss of relatives and caregivers, displacement, fear and the trauma of war continues to affect the mental well-being of children and adolescents.
Together with its partners, UNICEF is providing children with mental health and psychosocial support to better cope with the ongoing horrors, reaching more than 3,500 children with psychosocial support services through the child helpline and activities in 15 shelters located in Deir el Balah and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the children of the Gaza Strip cling to hope. They long to return to school, to study, to play, to return home with their families. In the end, it is a shared sentiment that transcends borders and conflicts: Every child, no matter the circumstances, deserves nothing less than the opportunity to be a child and relish life's precious moments.