ï¿½I once saw a man killed at a roadblock, and I felt very bad afterwards,ï¿½ 10-year-old Majdi says. ï¿½We all saw it from the windows of the bus, and everybody was very upset.ï¿½ Majdi is one of 640 Palestinian schoolchildren in the West-Bank town of Tubas who are taking part in a CABAC (Children Affected By Armed Conflict) programme, implemented by the Palestinian Red Crescent with funding from the European Unionï¿½s humanitarian agency, and the Danish and Icelandic Red Cross Societies.
The project is designed to help children cope with the psychological stress caused by the conflict in the Palestinian territories.
ï¿½Most children in Tubas have witnessed terrible things that sometimes have a long term psychological impact,ï¿½ says Marianne Celinder from the Danish Red Cross, who advises the psychosocial project in Tubas. ï¿½The CABAC project aims to help them get through these difficulties without suffering irreversible damage to their mental health.ï¿½
The parents of schoolchildren in Tubas say the conflict has had a very strong impact on their children. Many of them have constant fear and worries, not only during bombardments and shootings, but also for long periods afterwards.
ï¿½The conflict also has psychological effects on the adults,ï¿½ Marianne says. ï¿½Last week, for instance, there was a military incursion in Tubas, and I was woken in the middle of the night by the loud explosions and shooting outside. I did not know what was happening and called my colleague Salah, who is the project manager, and just at that moment his house was being searched by the soldiers. I could hardly hear what he was saying because all his five children were crying around him, terrified out of their minds.”
Marianne sighs as she remembers this incident. ï¿½This kind of event can cause severe shock to children, and it often takes them a long time to recover.ï¿½
ï¿½They donï¿½t understand what is happening, and they see that their parents are also terrified. If the children do not deal with their feelings afterwards, it can result in psychological problems,ï¿½ she adds.
ï¿½Many are unable to sleep at night because of worries and nightmares. Others cannot concentrate and have difficulties studying. Some cannot stop crying, or become bad-tempered and aggressive.ï¿½
She says these children can often be helped simply by encouraging them to talk about what they have experienced, or to get them to express their feelings in other ways.
“The most fun things we do in the workshops is playing football and basketball. What we do in the classroom is also good fun and we draw pictures and talk a lot to the teacher,ï¿½ says a smiling Majdi.
ï¿½We make the children draw a lot in these workshops. They also make figurines out of clay and create little theatre pieces or drama,ï¿½ says Salah Daraghmy of the Palestinian Red Crescent, who is project manager for the CABAC project in Tubas and has been working closely with Marianne to establish it.
He explains that these activities are not merely games. They are a means of confronting their fears and anxieties. ï¿½When they are asked to draw something they are afraid of, almost all the children at first draw pictures of soldiers, tanks, bulldozers demolishing houses or people being killed. There is so much violence in their lives, and their minds are so preoccupied with it,ï¿½ Salah says.
ï¿½The drawings and the other activities help them to deal with their difficult thoughts and bad memories. Gradually they are able to push them away and start drawing pictures of other things.ï¿½
The project involves all the parents of the children who participate in the project, which has strengthened their relationship with the school. They are informed about the project in parents meetings and are very positive about it. Many confirm that the professionally guided activities and discussions have made their children feel better, and how the friendly atmosphere and contact with the teacher and other students have improved their social skills and made them more content with life.
The project would not have been possible without the cooperation and training of the teachers. Those at the Aqqaba elementary school now see CABAC as an important element of the education system and are particularly pleased with how the project has improved social relations in the school.
Since the boys started participating in the CABAC workshops quarrels and fighting among students have become much less frequent, they explain.
But in spite of all the psychological stress that children in Tubas have to endure, the organisers of the project insist that the participants are generally not traumatised. On the contrary, the children playing outside the Aqqaba Elementary school are healthy individuals. But as a consequence of their unhealthy environment, they need all the assistance they can get to enable them to develop and prosper in a normal, healthy way.
ï¿½I donï¿½t really know what I am most afraid of,ï¿½ Majdi finally says with a thoughtful look in his eyes. ï¿½I think it is snakes, yes, and lions and tigers.ï¿½