Life in the Gaza strip: Helping children recover after the May 2021 bombings

A moment of peace…

It’s May last year and Israeli airstrikes are descending over the Gaza strip.

Words by Emma, Act for Peace team

Below, millions of innocent civilians wait for the inevitable devastation, terrified in their homes.

It’s not the first time they’ve witnessed this kind of violence, and probably won’t be the last.

Living conditions are already very harsh in Gaza, with most of the population living under the poverty line after years of war and blockade.

A Palestinian girl stands amid the rubble of her destroyed house in Beit Hanun town northern Gaza Strip, on May 24, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza. Fatima Shbair/Getty Images

In one of the homes caught up in the bombing lives a young girl with her family. She is only 10 years old.

Thankfully, her family make an escape during the night before their home is destroyed.

Everyone is safe except her uncle, who stays behind. Tragically, he becomes one of the 130 civilians whose lives are lost in the dust and rubble.

For a long time, this young girl can’t believe what happened is real. Struck by grief, she stays in denial, traumatised by the atrocities she’s seen.

Sadly, it’s a common experience in Gaza in the wake of last year’s tragedy.

With around 75% of the community, mostly mothers and children, suffering from psychological and mental health problems, our partner on the ground knew what kind of support was needed.

Lubna works as the Health Program Coordinator with Act for Peace’s partner in Gaza. Her team are working hard to meet the psychosocial needs of children, mothers and adolescents in some of Gaza’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods. Act for Peace

This week I spoke with Lubna, Health Program Coordinator with our local partner, Near East Council of Churches (NECC), to hear how her team are helping their community to recover after the attacks.

“We discovered there were many school children who were affected, particularly the children who lost their houses and became displaced, or lost their loved ones”, Lubna tells me, “when we let them draw, they draw aeroplanes and airstrikes and bombardment.”

Group therapy sessions can help to distract young people from the stressful events they’ve experienced and feel connected with other people. Richard Wainwright / Act for Peace

With the support of funds we raised together last year, Lubna’s team have set up a specialised psychosocial support program to help children, mothers and adolescents to heal from these traumatic events.

“We try to help them build resilience, try to make them feel more relaxed and release their stress.  We try our best in order to help them through our psychosocial support program,” she says.

“We discovered there were many school children who were affected, particularly children who lost their houses and became displaced, or lost their loved ones.”

Lubna, Health Program Coordinator, NECC

The program includes support like group therapy sessions and ‘open days’, where staff take children and mothers on day trips during the summer holidays to do fun activities, like football, dancing and singing. The kinds of activities kids should be occupied with.

After being in the program for some time, I asked Lubna how that young girl, who lost her uncle, is doing now.

“The psychosocial counsellor said to me that she noticed some improvement in her, by engaging her with the group with the classmates and giving her some activities not related to the war, like singing, a puppet show, in order to help her accept the situation and to make her to heal from this trauma.”

“It’s not like physical diseases – these children need time to recover.”

I wanted to pass on Lubna’s gratitude to the Act for Peace community, for raising funds that have enabled NECC to extend its psychosocial program and have long-term impacts on these children and mothers.

Together, we will continue to support NECC and the people of Gaza as they navigate these unimaginable living circumstances.

Take care,

Emma – Act for Peace team

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