The children arrive, at first apprehensive of the smiling adults whose names they do not know. They stand quietly, some in groups, some alone, clutching a parent’s hands or fiddling with their school uniforms, waiting for reassurance. They watch for which peer moves first, and whether they, too, should join in. The adults offer instructions, craft material and rubber balls and encourage the children to join in their games. They try to make the students laugh. Very, very carefully, the students start to follow their direction. Balloons start to inflate, paint brushes begin to smear colours across white paper and conversations in small sharing circles take-off.
These are Palestine refugee students and UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) workers at an UNRWA school in Gaza City. From the midst of the 50-day summer 2014 conflict in July until today, the Agency’s 252-member CMHP team has worked tirelessly with the children of Gaza in a special early recovery initiative to help children cope as they try to make sense of the violence and destruction many have witnessed. Some of the refugee children are engaged in repeated sessions with the counsellors, both at UNRWA schools and the Agency’s collective centres where many internally displaced persons (IDPs) were forced to live, as the team works steadily to improve the coping mechanisms of Gaza’s young. With his camera at hand, Fadi Thaber, himself a Palestine refugee and UNRWA teacher, stayed with the programme capturing some of the transformation. ‘These children have seen so many conflicts, yet like children all around the world they want to be happy,” Fadi said.