By Roshan Khadivi
JERUSALEM, 23 January 2009 – The recent and extreme levels of conflict in Gaza have affected the lives of some 800,000 children and young people. Many have lost their schools, health facilities, play areas and even neighbourhoods, which have been destroyed in the violence.
Women and children are the worst affected. Among them are a special group with one foot still in childhood and another in adulthood: the adolescents.
“We lived the worst life humans could live in this world–no food or electricity, no water,” says Lara Abu Ramadan, a 17-year-old Gaza resident, describing her experience of the conflict.
“As a result of the escalation of violence in the recent conflict, many adolescents in Gaza are now experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, insecurity and intense fear,” notes the head of UNICEF’s Adolescent Development and Participation (ADAP) programme, Linda Sall. “However, as adolescents, they also feel the need to take some action to support their families, friends and community.”
Adolescents lead and learn
Prior to this conflict, UNICEF and its local partners provided youths with daily recreational activities such as sports, art, music and drama – as well as life-skills education – at 28 adolescent-friendly learning spaces in five districts of Gaza.
The learning spaces are based on adolescent-led initiatives, allowing young people themselves to develop ideas for contributing to campaigns like mine-risk awareness, school reconstruction or equipping homes for people with disabilities.
UNICEF’s ADAP and child protection programmes are ready to respond to the immediate needs of communities in Gaza by turning some of the adolescent-friendly spaces into family centres. The goal is to reach youths and families together with psychosocial support and services, health referrals and distribution of non-food items.
There is also work to be done in disseminating information on the danger from unexploded munitions and landmines.
Restoring normalcy, reducing stress
Meanwhile, the centres will continue to engage and mobilize adolescents through peer-to-peer psychosocial support, recreational activities and participation in community rehabilitation projects.
Palestinian boys play football in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
The centres will also pair adolescents with trained psychosocial workers. These teams will facilitate home visits and provide support for children who have been separated from their families or displaced, and are living in shelters and orphanages.
This approach will give adolescents a chance to play a two-fold role. As beneficiaries of UNICEF’s effort, they will mitigate their own stress, get group support and participate in recreational activities. And as role models, they will be able to support psychosocial, recreational and family-outreach activities for younger children.
“The idea will be to build on something that is already in the society and that is familiar,” Ms. Sall explains, “to bring back a sense of normality to life.”
Watch the UNICEF YouTube Channel Video
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_JJgjDaPbQ 310 255]