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Helping Gaza's children lead ‘normal’ lives again

West Bank and Gaza, April 21, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mirjam Hendrikse/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mohamed Azaizeh. Photo: Mirjam Hendrikse/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mirjam Hendrikse/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mohamed Azaizeh trains some of the community-based organization (CBO) facilitators who will help improve the psychosocial well-being of almost 4,500 children and their families. Photo: Mirjam Hendrikse/Mercy Corps

Mohamed Azaizeh is Mercy Corps’ Project Officer for the UK Department for International Development (DFID)-funded psychosocial project in the Gaza Strip. Mohamed joined Mercy Corps in February 2009 — immediately after the Gaza War — to take on a leading role implementing one of the larger emergency response programs. I have worked with him since I arrived in Gaza a few months later.

With the results of the midterm evaluation report published a short while ago, and the project coming to an end soon, Mohamed is eager to share his experience with others:

“It has been an incredible learning process for me since I joined Mercy Corps. After the Gaza War, I was committed to support children who were suffering from psychosocial problems. It was my wish to help them change their behavior in a positive way and help them lead a normal life again. With my background as an Occupational Therapist, this psychosocial project was a perfect fit for me.”

“In the first few months of implementation, I was not sure if our small team would be able to reach all our project goals. It was a challenging experience to work with 16 different community-based organizations (CBOs) in three different areas of the Gaza Strip. We worked with over 50 CBO facilitators to improve the psychosocial wellbeing of almost 4,500 children and their families. But together with my team members, and with the help of senior Mercy Corps staff, I believe we have made a difference."

"I feel that because all of us have the same goal, we are able to do what we do so well. The DFID project team is one of the best I have ever worked with!”

The midterm project evaluation report, published at the end of 2009, confirms that efforts of Mohamed and his team have paid off. Almost 70 percent of the parents of children attending psychosocial sessions reported that their children demonstrated significantly fewer behavioral problems — as well as more positive behaviors — at the end of the first project phase than they did at the beginning. Mohamed continues:

“Since the Gaza War, there are several international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) that are implementing psychosocial programs. There are only a few who are implementing their activities by working closely with local CBOs — Mercy Corps is one of them. More importantly, we have a clear focus on building the capacity of our CBOs, so that at the end of the project they can do this important work themselves.”

“One of the highlights for us and the CBO facilitators has been our work with the Comfort for Kids materials. These were developed by experienced Mercy Corps staff in the United States, but with significant input from us in Gaza. It feels very empowering to be a part of such an important process and we are proud that we have played such an important role in the development of materials that are now used by thousands of children and parents in the Gaza Strip.”

The design and monitoring of the project’s impact, including the mid-term evaluation, has been undertaken with close and active involvement of the Institute of International Health and Development at Queen Margaret University (QMU) in the UK; an innovation that allowed Mercy Corps to learn from their expertise in this area. Mohamed describes the relationship:

“We have been very lucky with the involvement of QMU. With the Comfort for Kids materials being used for the first time in Gaza, it was essential for us to monitor and evaluate our activities in the best possible way. QMU has provided us with the tools and skills necessary, and helped us with the analysis of data collected. Mercy Corps is ensuring that our project team is learning as much as possible from QMU’s involvement. The organization is helping us to help our own people. In future psychosocial projects we hope that we can do most of the monitoring and evaluation work ourselves!”

“The outcomes of the midterm evaluation demonstrate that we have reached great results. But it also shows us where we can still improve our work. Not all the CBOs that we are working with are performing in the same excellent way. We need to provide the CBOs that face more difficulties with additional support. This is what we have been working on in the past few months. I hope that the team and I will be able to use everything that we have learned with Mercy Corps in other psychosocial programmes.

"Our DFID-funded project comes to an end in March, but the need for psychosocial support in Gaza remains.”