News / Middle East

    Doctors Tackle Damaged Minds Amid Gaza's Post-War Destruction

    Mohammed Wahdan, wounded in Israeli shelling, receives psychological care at Shifa hospital in Gaza City ,August 14, 2014.
    Mohammed Wahdan, wounded in Israeli shelling, receives psychological care at Shifa hospital in Gaza City ,August 14, 2014.
    Reuters

    In a ward at Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital, child therapist Rabeea Hamouda is trying to elicit a response from two small brothers, Omar and Mohammed, aged three and 18 months, hoping for some words or perhaps a smile.

    For seven straight minutes the children, peppered with burns and shrapnel wounds sustained in Israeli shelling that hit their home in north Gaza, stare at him blankly, emotionless.

    Eventually, as Hamouda gently teases them, pretending to mix up their names and holding out a present while another counselor sings quietly, a smile creeps across Mohammed's face and the older one, Omar, cries out his name.

    “At the beginning, Omar was not responding to us at all, he was not even willing to say his name,” explains Hamouda, who heads a team of 150 psychotherapists working for the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Gaza.

    “Big progress has been made with these children,” he says with a sense of relief and quiet accomplishment. “At the beginning they did not talk, they refused to communicate. But now, with the sixth session, we are witnessing good progress.”

    Omar and Mohammed are just two of the 400,000 Gazan children the United Nations estimates are in need of psychological care as a result of not just the latest war in the territory but the three previous conflicts fought with Israel since 2006.

    The most recent conflagration has been the deadliest, with 1,945 Palestinians killed, many of them civilians and including an estimated 457 children. On the other side of the border, some 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

    Whether the result of Israeli air strikes, having parents or relatives killed before their eyes, hearing militants firing rockets from their own towns or themselves being wounded, the psychological trauma for Gaza's young is profound.

    The symptoms range from nightmares, bed-wetting and behavioral regression to more debilitating mental anxiety, including an inability to process or verbalize experiences.

    There is also deep trauma on the other side of the border, with tens of thousands of Israeli children mentally disturbed by the regular rocket fire from militants during the month-long war and over the seven years since Hamas seized control of Gaza.

    While the conflict's destruction of buildings and livelihoods is clear to see and documented daily in television footage, the damage to minds is mostly invisible, yet can have far more damaging and longer-lasting consequences.

    “The first time a child goes through a traumatic event like a war it's just deeply terrifying,” said Chris Gunness, the spokesman of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has 200 psychotherapists working in up to 90 clinics in Gaza.

    “The second time is terrifying-plus-one because the child remembers the worst parts of the last war as well as the impact of the current one. Then the third time is plus-plus as the compounded memories of conflict build up.

    “This time, for an eight- or nine-year-old child in Gaza, it's very, very intense indeed because there is this cumulative toll of trauma from repeated conflicts since 2006.”

    Small steps

    Hamouda and his team, like other psychotherapy units working across the small territory — home to an estimated 1.8 million people, more than half of whom are aged under 18 — can barely cope with the number of patients requiring help.

    The treatment is by necessity basic — an effort to draw children out, to have them paint pictures of their experiences or emotions, to get them to verbalize their circumstances.

    While a lot can be achieved with such simple techniques, many more require longer-term, personalized psychological care because of the enormity of the mental damage suffered.

    “First we provide wounded and traumatized children with immediate pyscho-social support and we give parents some guidance on how to deal with them,” says Hamouda. Then there is home care and follow up for the more severe cases.

    “Houses can be rebuilt and some physical wounds can be healed, but the people's psychological condition needs more than money and time,” he says. “It needs a big effort and persuasion, and overall it needs calm and stability.”

    One of Gaza's most successful trauma assistance projects is the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, launched in 1990.

    Hassan Zyada, a psychologist with the project, describes the latest conflict as easily the worst since 2006, with scores of Palestinians having lost multiple family members.

    “Our expectation is that more than 30 percent of the people here in Gaza will develop a psychiatric disorder,” he said.

    Even health professionals are not immune. Six members of Zyada's own family were killed during the war: his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a nephew. He is now receiving counseling from the clinic's chief therapist.

    “It is a really traumatic loss and it is not easy for me to deal with,” he said, adding that several others on the team had suffered similar experiences.

    So widespread has the psychological damage become that UNRWA, which runs schools throughout the Gaza Strip, has now made psychotherapy a regular part of the curriculum.

    “We are rolling out a pretty massive program of parental and child therapy,” said Gunness. “We're having to integrate this kind of therapy into our schools.”

    You May Like

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: mother
    August 18, 2014 2:16 PM
    This is heart breaking..... This is very painful.. When we think of the same for our own children.... It really is suffocating and frustrating to hear about little innocent children face these thoughts.... What did they do????????

    by: meanbill from: USA
    August 15, 2014 2:29 PM
    Tell the children, always remember and never forget, that this was just one of many battles they will face in life, and especially remember who your friends are, and who your enemies are, and never forget.... And god willing, you will prevail..

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.