Eight days of airstrikes and bombings damaged administrative buildings, some homes and schools, water tanks and infrastructure. But the constant noise and strikes also provoked widespread fear and depression, most noticeably among Gaza’s children, who showed signs of behavior disorder.
The village of Al-Mosadar, located in Middle Gaza is very close to the border so when the bombings started most of the families fled their homes for a safer refuge. Once the ceasefire took effect, the families returned to the village and teachers scrambled to reopen Al-Ansaar preschool, the only one in the village, to help the displaced and try to create some semblance of normality for the children. “The children lost their sense of stability,” explained preschool director Najwa Abu Thabet. “They want to stay indoors in one classroom, rather than go for outdoor games and they are much attached to their toys.”
During the first two days of school, Ms. Abu Thabet and her teaching staff worked on healing programs when they noticed the kids were hitting pieces of wooden cubes loudly to recall the sound of the bombings. “They are scared from any sound, panic can be seen in their eyes,” she said. “If a chair moves causing a sound, they are frightened and intuitively jump as a reaction. Our village was hard hit,” she added.
So the teachers now have encouraged the children to talk and express their emotions.”We gave them colors to use to reflect their emotions,” Ms Abu Thabet explained. “Some children were reluctant or silent so we tried to make them speak, but it is very hard to restore their smiles again.” The teachers initiated some intensive programs and cooked meals for them. “We cooked a lot for them and we share their artwork with their parents and we’ll make birthday parties for them,” continued Najwa Abu Thabet. “Toys now mean a lot to children. They hug puppets and like to stay next to each other in one classroom.”
The preschool director says ANERA’s early child development programs helped a lot: “Using the training we got from ANERA, we tried to put our skills into practice to help kids overcome the difficulties during this emergency.”
Ms Abu Thabet’s preschool recently was renovated and a reading corner installed as part of the “Right Start!” education project. She also had participated in teacher training sessions organized under the auspices of ANERA’s successful Milk for Preschoolers program. She also earned an ANERA certificate in active learning that focused on expressive arts and drama.