One year after Operation Cast Lead, the three-month military conflict between Israel and Hamas, people in the Gaza Strip are still struggling to rebuild their lives.
Since February 2009, only a few weeks after the ceasefire, Mercy Corps’ psychosocial team has made significant efforts to contribute to their recovery, implementing a psychosocial support project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The response of children and parents involved in the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Recently, a midterm evaluation, conducted by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh (UK), confirmed the impact that these psychosocial activities have on children and their families (The evaluation report is available here).
Since the conflict Mercy Corps has witnessed the growth of fear, anxiety, desperation and depression amongst children and youth. In Gaza, the conflict, as well as the ongoing blockade, has brought about shortages of food, medical supplies and water, but the psychological toll is just as devastating. Children in particular, are suffering from a large range of problems such as fear of the unknown, disturbing dreams, headaches and pain. They are also very emotional and nervous and have difficulties in learning. Constant memories of painful events have been identified as affecting them the most. Parents, schools and other caregivers are often unable to cope with these issues and do not have the knowledge or tools to recognize and treat them.
Mercy Corps’ project therefore focuses on the provision of emergency psychosocial outreach to communities worst affected by conflict in Gaza North, Gaza and Khan Younis. The project provides safe spaces and psychosocial activities for children and adults, and at the same time involves the broader community in awareness raising sessions concerning specific psychosocial needs of children. These trainings also allow community members to access information and assistance about available social services. To provide this psychosocial support, Mercy Corps works with sixteen community-based organizations (CBOs).
During the first phase of the project almost 4,500 children attended psychosocial group sessions at the CBOs, while another 902 children participated in individual counselling sessions. Mercy Corps is using its own ‘Comfort for Kids’ materials to support the needs of these trauma affected children.
Over 770 adults attended psychosocial workshops, and 5,049 community members participated in 244 community gatherings, that provided them with training on recognizing children’s needs and ways to cope with trauma and depression.
Two key results of the midterm evaluation are:
- 69.5% of the parents of children attending psychosocial sessions reported that their children demonstrated significantly fewer behavioural problems, and more positive behaviours, at the end of the programme than they did at the beginning.
- Children who participated in the psychosocial sessions experienced the programme activities as overwhelmingly positive. They also valued the relationships they formed in the programme, both with fellow-participants and with the facilitators.
Building on the success of the first phase, and the outcomes and recommendations of the midterm evaluation, Mercy Corps is continuing its psychosocial activities with almost 5,000 children and over 4,000 parents. While the evaluation has shown positive results and clearly states the beneficial impact that Mercy Corps psychosocial activities have on children and their families, it also confirms the need for continued efforts with these groups of children as well as their parents, siblings and peers, in order to help Gazan communities cope with the ongoing trauma of their situation.