The 50-day war in Gaza during the summer of 2014 destroyed 20,000 homes and forever changed the lives of many families. Those who lived near the border with Israel were evacuated to shelters. After the war, many mothers and children returned to their neighborhoods to find their homes had been destroyed and were forced to make difficult decisions, to start their lives over from scratch. Although the war is over, mothers and caregivers still struggle with the trauma and stress of caring for their families in less than ideal circumstances, in crowded shelters.
International Medical Corps provided emergency relief while the conflict was still waging, but now that conditions have eased, we are staying on to help survivors build better futures. As one of the very few international relief organizations to make mental health care a priority, International Medical Corps is currently addressing the mental health needs of children, mothers, and caregivers of children with disabilities who are recovering from the effects of the devastating war. Below is a firsthand account from one mother living in Gaza.
"The past years have been very very difficult. We have eight children, one has cerebral palsy and one has a serious heart condition and needs surgery which we can’t afford.
My husband is a builder, but he has been without a job since the tunnels were closed and no more building material could enter Gaza. We now have to live from a small allowance that is provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but that is far too little to survive from. Fortunately there are some people in our community that provide us with some food; otherwise I would have no idea what to do. Life is expensive and besides food we also have to buy medication, pampers and other specialized items for our children. It’s a daily struggle. Many times we couldn’t even afford to go to doctor appointments for my daughter’s heart condition, as we had no money for transportation.
I can never leave the house because my children need constant care and monitoring. I have a 16 years old daughter (Duaa) and 9 years old son (Hamza) that have a severe mental retardation and can be very aggressive and unpredictable. I have to constantly watch them because I am afraid that otherwise something will happen. But it’s hard. They keep yelling and screaming and I don’t know what to do. Very often I became so stressed and angry. The doctor gave me medication to give my children to calm them down, but when they take it they just sleep or sit there staring at nothing. I don’t want that, at least I want them to have a life.
When the war started we decided not to evacuate. We were afraid that no shelter would take us because of our children and even if they did so it would cause many problems with the other people that were staying there. They would not understand and could become aggressive as well, especially when everybody is stressed and afraid because of the war. So we stayed in our house, despite the risks. I love my children dearly and all I wanted was just to stay together. If that means that we couldn’t evacuate, so be it.
During most of the war the children stayed under their bed or locked themselves in the bathroom, crying and screaming. Except Duaa who didn’t realize what was going on and just laughed hysterically. From time to time my husband went outside to search for potatoes and vegetables in the fields nearby, so at least we didn’t starve to death. And me personally, I just did my best to not go crazy, trying to stay busy most of the time. That is basically how we spend these 50 days.
Not too long after the war our neighbors informed me that International Medical Corps was implementing a program in Al Mussadar Kindergarten and tried to convince me to attend. I didn’t want to go because I was needed in the house, but it was my husband that convinced me to go.
After the first session I felt so liberated, as if something had changed inside me. I loved how Hiba, an International Medical Corps educator, made everybody feel welcome and safe.
After the session she took time to talk a bit more with me and I explained my situation to her. She was so sweet and caring and just having someone listening to me felt as such a relief. She also gave me tips of things that I could do to calm down my children and over the following weeks I was looking forward to the sessions to learn more.
I have completely changed since then. I started to show more interest in my children and asked them about their day, school, their friends, or even what they had dreamt about. We do games with the entire family and we even laugh. I had almost forgotten how beautiful that sound could be.
Another amazing change is that Duaa and Hamza are much calmer nowadays. I started to draw with them and make paintings and it is almost as if they finally found a way how they can communicate and they no longer have to scream. Duaa now comes to sit on my lap and hugs and kisses me, I would never have believed this was possible if someone would have told me that a year ago.
You know, I never felt that I was a good mother for my children and it did hurt so much on the inside. But now I finally feel like a mother, and a very good one."