UNRWA continues efforts to keep trauma at bay amongst Gaza’s children

16 March 2015
 An UNRWA counsellor encourages fifth grade students at the UNRWA Gaza elementary co-ed school B in Gaza City to explore their thoughts and feelings through innovative Community Mental Health Programme training on Thursday, 12 March, 2015. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwin


More young people in the Gaza Strip are learning how to deal with stress and trauma than ever before, according to UNRWA.

The trend towards empowering vulnerable refugee children in Gaza to better cope with the extreme challenges they face on a daily basis has seen a greater academic focus in schools and confidence in the students who have received the support, said Dr. Iyad Zaqout, the Programme Manager for the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP).

As the Agency’s CMHP staff continue their work with children to provide an environment of greater acceptance and help children receive the respect and support they need to become positive, contributing members of Gazan society, Dr. Zaqout said his team had noted a decrease in disruptive behaviour amongst children involved in the counselling sessions.

The average UNRWA primary school student has lived through three cycles of renewed military conflict in the past seven years witnessing death, destruction and displacement, and  has never left the Gaza Strip, unless perhaps for medical treatment.

Working with a team of 250 trained community health counsellors across the Gaza Strip, in the first week of March 2015 alone, the Agency reached 24,343 students in its recreational CMHP training sessions, including 15,859 students in group guidance sessions, 1,215 students in group counselling and 766 individual counselling sessions.

“We feel very relaxed and full of positive energy after being involved in such sessions,” said one fifth grade female primary school student at UNRWA elementary co/ed school B in Gaza City, who chose to remain anonymous, after participating in a group recreational session designed to help girls explore their feelings, and express and deal with their thoughts in the most effective way. “We will implement these techniques at home,” she said.

After the 2012 conflict, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rate among children in Gaza doubled, according to the Agency. Anecdotal evidence suggests the July/August 2014 conflict has further compounded children’s suffering.

The stress of the ongoing blockade, continued conflict, extreme poverty, and increased gender-based violence have produced intense fear, bed-wetting, poor concentration, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, irritability and hyperactivity. If left untreated, these children face the risk of anti-social behaviour and susceptibility to negative influences, plunging Gaza deeper into despair.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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