By Sana Khan
While bombs fell mercilessly on the Gaza strip during the recent offensive, a young boy cried helplessly for his mother in an overcrowded and panic-stricken hospital. The crying finally subsided, when he was brought to sit next to his mother, and patiently waited for her to wake up. Little did he realize that his mother had passed away.
What will be the fate of this young boy, and many others like him that have had to witness the death of a parent, relative, sibling, or friend? What affect will the fragile social climate have on his upbringing, where poverty, injustice, severe depravation are widespread, in one of the most volatile regions on earth?
According to a recent report by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), stress-related and mental health disorders are on the rise in the Gaza strip. As a result of the occupation, children are suffering from increased levels of sleep problems, feelings of fear and anxiety, cognitive and emotional disorders, and a decreasing hope in the future.
In an interview with Reuters, Psychiatrist Hasan Zeyada stated that the constant exposure to shocking violence has left many children suffering from trauma and all that it entails—bed wetting, nightmares, flashbacks and fear of going out in public, to name a few. “Part of this is related to our culture and religion, which values sacrifice and duty. The other part is a kind of denial. It’s normal to be scared, but in the messages children have watched and heard, they’re taught just to show strength.”
Zeyada, Manager of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program also stated that, “In a situation like Gaza’s, the best families and the community can do for children is to keep them close and go about life as normally as possible.”
From the occupation of Muslim lands to the dire poverty our fellow brothers and sisters face, the Prophet Muhammad reminds us of the vital connection we have with Muslims around the world- that the Ummah is like one body; if one member becomes sick, the other members of this body will take care of the sick one:
“The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
As Muslims, we have followed the spirit of this hadith by providing for the physical and financial needs of our brothers and sisters in emergency situations. When addressing these needs however, we have seemed to overlook the growing emotional and psychological needs of fellow Muslims in struggling parts of the world. More than anything, these children need a safe place for healing and emotional support to be able to overcome these problems and continue to live normal, productive lives.
The Islamic Relief (IR) team has been providing psychosocial support for the children in eastern Gaza for 2.5 years with donor funding that is expected to end in March 2013. Due to the near constant barrage of rocket fire and airstrikes over the recent days of hostilities, the long-term operation of this program is more necessary than ever before.
With your help, IR wishes to secure funds to extend the period of this center by an additional 2 years, to provide the needed psychosocial support to the children in eastern Gaza.
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