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Aisha is a 7th-grade student and lives with her family of seven in Johur Al Deek, a marginalized border village in Gaza. Despite the family’s financial hardship due to her father’s unemployment, Aisha works hard in her school lessons. However, in August 2021 a tragic incident occurred during the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip. During the offensive, Aisha’s mother left the house to visit and help her grandmother. Unfortunately, shortly after her departure, a powerful explosion shook the area, causing Aisha extreme distress. Aisha feared that her mother had been killed in the blast.
Since then, Aisha has been plagued by nightmares about losing her mother and a constant fear of loss. This has resulted in a lack of interest in her usual activities, isolation from her friends and family, and a decline in her academic performance. Aisha was invited to participate in the WA Project – establishing counselling units in schools in Gaza for traumatised children. The counsellors developed a personal counselling plan for Aisha and during one of her first sessions with the school counsellor Aisha expressed her emotions in her journal.
“I’m exhausted. All day long, I am crying and scared… I don’t want to be away from my mother.”
The violence children in Gaza continue to experience can have a severe impact on their mental health and their everyday life, including their education. These children require professional mental health support. Schools can play a crucial role in addressing this need, helping to identify problems and facilitating the support children require. Parents also need support to better understand what is happening with their child and how they can most appropriately support their needs. However, of parents in Gaza, 25% indicated that there is no psychosocial and counselling support in schools.
Thankfully, Aisha was able to access the support she needed though WA’s ‘School Counselling Units for Traumatised Children in Gaza’ project with our partner, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. WA has supported the development of school counselling units in Gaza for over a decade, with more than 50 school counselling units established, supporting many thousands of traumatised children.
To read about this project and its impact in full, please click here.
Welfare Association has established counselling units in more than 50 schools with more than 11,000 children supported in Gaza.
This project was incredibly successful, with the following key achievements:
From December 2022 to April 2023, a total of 371 students benefited from counselling services provided in the dedicated counselling units.
Aisha was one of these students. GCMHP’s professional psychologists, worked with the school counsellors to develop personalized interventions for Aisha, designed to help her manage and overcome her trauma. Aisha undertook a range of therapy in the new facilities, allowing her to express her emotions and fears. Play therapy, drawing, and relaxation exercises enabled Aisha to communicate her experiences. The counsellors also reached out to Aisha’s mother directly to provide family counselling, support, and education, emphasizing her crucial role in Aisha’s therapy. Aisha’s teachers were provided with psycho-education training, to increase their ability to support her academically and psychosocially.
As a result of these interventions, Aisha has experienced significant improvements in her mental health and wellbeing. Her mother and teachers have noticed that she has become livelier and once again she is actively participating in her education and social activities. There has been a notable improvement in her academic achievements, as Aisha begins to feel like her old self.
Aisha herself expressed her progress, saying:
“I am feeling better now; I am much less afraid.”
 Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment, OCHA, July 2022 https://www.ochaopt.org/data/2022/msna
* Names have been changed
Mr. Muhammad Naji is a 72-year-old man from Burj Al-Barajneh Refugee Camp, in Beirut, Lebanon. He is living in very difficult conditions with no source of income. He had a blockage in the blood vessels of his heart, requiring immediate surgery.
UNRWA’s Crisis Monitoring Report on the Socio-Economic Situation of Palestine Refugees in Lebanon, in October 2022, states that 93% of all Palestine refugees in Lebanon live in poverty.
The employment of 33% Palestinian refugees is insecure, as they find work as daily, weekly, or temporary laborers (in comparison to 10% of Lebanese). With the complete closure and stopping of many types of economic activities, many refugees have lost their income.
Currently, approximately 95% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not have any health insurance and they are not able to access services provided by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health. UNRWA, as a specialized UN agency for Palestinian refugees, provides full coverage of primary healthcare services for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. However, it provides only partial support for some tertiary healthcare and treatment required for chronic or catastrophic diseases; such as neurological conditions, cardiovascular diseases, transplants, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or kidney failure.
According to UNRWA, 37% of all PRL and 33% of all PRS have a chronic condition.
The situation of elderly PRL and PRS is even worse, as 87.6% of all elderly PRL have some type of chronic disease, while 85.7% of all elderly PRS have some type of chronic disease (according to the UNRWA and AUB study published in 2015). Due to their age and medical conditions, many require hospitalization – which is partially covered by UNRWA and other NGOs (such as Welfare Association). UNRWA covers 90% of the cost for secondary hospital services and 60% of the very high costs of tertiary treatment at contracted Lebanese hospitals.
In addition, UNRWA currently utilizes two different systems to support patients in need of hospitalization. The first, is the regular support for tertiary hospitalization (which covers 60% [up to a ceiling of USD $5,000 per admission] of the total cost). The second, is under the “Medical Hardship Fund” support (partially covering the fees for patients whose cost of admission for in-patient treatment is $8,000 and above). The percentage of support depends on the total value per admission in both contracted and non-contracted hospitals, up to a ceiling of $6,000.
The recent funding difficulties faced by UNRWA, the declining interest / ability of donors to fund projects targeting PRL, and the economic crisis in Lebanon – means it is now more urgent than ever that essential and lifesaving medical support is provided for Palestinian refugees (both PRL and PRS), that can cover the hospitalization costs. Considering that no other NGO / entity is providing this essential support, this project filled a clear gap and saved dozens of lives – in addition to alleviating the financial and psychological burden of the patients’ families
“The search for funds to cover the cost of surgery takes many months and is extremely stressful, especially since we must go to many institutions to ensure that the cost of the operation is covered. The doctor informed me I needed a heart operation as soon as possible, but I needed to find the funds first!”
As part of this project supporting hospital costs, WA allocated funds to supplement the contribution from UNRWA towards Muhammad’s treatment. Muhammad’s family and friends were then able to raise the reduced balance required for his heart surgery.
“Welfare Association was the first institution to receive my file and approve quickly. I started researching other institutions to provide the remaining funds. My health is currently stable and I am thankful for the support and treatment I received.”
PRL = Palestine Refugee in Lebanon / PRS = Palestine Refugee in Syria
Amal is a seven year-old girl in second grade at school. She lives in Al Zaytoon area, East of Gaza, an area that is often subjected to military conflict. She has three sisters and two brothers. Amal’s father is unemployed due to the difficult economic situation in Gaza and the lack of employment opportunities.
Amal told the project team:
“I can hardly see the blackboard in my class, I had to stand in front of the board to be able to see what the teacher writes. I always ask my teacher to read what she writes on the blackboard.”
Her teacher in Tunis School said that Amal is constantly leaning over her desk to write in her notebook, and that Amal’s writing is not tidy or clear. “I cannot read what she writes. I tried to encourage her to participate more but she refuses. Amal is shy and feels unhappy, fearing the other students will laugh at her. She even refuses to write on the blackboard as she cannot see properly.”
Amal’s parents noticed the problem of her sight, after the school informed them, but they couldn’t afford to buy eyeglasses. The cost is around US$20 (approximately £15).
Through the sight screening during the project, Amal was found to have severe short-sightedness/Myopia of the left eye and laziness in the right eye, which has negatively affected her daily life. The weakness in her sight also left Amal alone and isolated from playing with her friends at school. She had only one friend and her academic achievement was getting worse.
Amal was delighted to receive her new eyeglasses. The project team and teachers observed her progress as she started to study and prepare for the end-of-year exams well. They noted that her participation in the classroom has also improved. Her writing has become much easier to read. They also noticed that Amal started to build friendships with other students at school.
“I like watching TV and playing with the girls and boys in my class, but because I did not see well, I was always afraid to play with them before. I fear falling over and hate it when they laugh at me.” When we met Amal after she received the glasses, she said: “I’m very happy with the eyeglasses. I can see the board much better now. I feel more confident that I will not fall over and I can play with my classmates. When I look at myself in the mirror, I find the eyeglasses look beautiful on me!”
Amal’s mother noticed that her daughter is now more relaxed and confident at home, she said: “Amal studies well now, and in her free time she loves to read stories and watch cartoons.”
Amal is one of the 1,974 young children who were screened for eye problems in this project, and one of 450 children identified as in need of glasses. Without this project, these children would not be able to afford the eye screening and glasses, resulting not only in distress and psychological problems, but also the high possibility of illiteracy and dropping out of school, due to the economic hardships of families living in Gaza.
Our thanks to all the UK donors who made this project possible.
*Names have been changed
Ghassan is a six year-old boy, born with muscular atrophy. He is enrolled in a special education centre in Gaza (run by the Society of Physically Handicapped People, SPHP). The manager of the centre explained to the WA project team that Ghassan does not hear well, and so staff at the centre need to raise their voice when talking to him. She also reported that his progress in class is not as good as it used to be. She informed his parents and asked them to have his hearing checked but Ghassan’s father unfortunately could not afford the examination costs, as he cares for a large family and his wife has cancer.
Through this project, Ghassan was provided with hearing and sight tests. He was diagnosed with extreme loss of hearing and received two hearing aids.
After receiving his hearing aids, his teacher commented:
“Ghassan has shown a remarkable increase in his attention and concentration in class and in his interaction with his classmates and teachers. He is now making steady progress.”
When interviewed, Ghassan’s father said:
“Before this project, Ghassan hated going to the centre. The staff there used to raise their voice for him to hear and he thought that they were shouting at him. This made him feel very embarrassed in front of his friends. Even his classmates were not talking to him as they also had to raise their voices. Now that he has received hearing aids, Ghassan told me that he is able to hear voices around him clearly. He understands what the teachers say and he has friends now who he plays with. Thank you for supporting this project that has helped my son so much.”
*Names have been changed
Jamila is a 17-year-old girl who lives in the Gaza Strip.
She lost both legs when an unmanned Israeli drone dropped a missile on the roof of her house in East Gaza City. The rocket also killed her sister and a cousin whilst they were playing. An ambulance came immediately and took Jamila to Hospital. She underwent several operations as doctors tried everything to save her legs, but unfortunately, they were not able to.
When our project team met Jamila, she was in urgent need of assistive devices, to enable her to go to school without help from her family or friends. Through our community-based rehabilitation programme in Gaza, we were able to provide Jamila with a wheelchair and a cushion and with the medication that she needed.
After receiving the items, Jamila said:
“I will rely on myself. No one will help me as my family and friends do now. And I will become a journalist.”
The journey to her school, located 100 metres away from her house used to take her 20 minutes, but now it takes her only 5 minutes.
In addition to her ambition to become a journalist and write about the daily life of Palestinians living in Gaza, Jamila looks forward to one day becoming a mother and having a family.
“For those kind hands who tried to help me, I tell them thank you very much, because they gave me hope to achieve my dream of being a journalist.”
*Names have been changed