Last week in Gaza, half a million children went back to school after a summer of war. The academic year started late; among other things, authorities had to check buildings for unexploded ordnance and scrub schools that had been used to shelter hundreds of thousands of displaced families. With dozens of schools still sheltering people, destroyed or simply too damaged to use, classrooms are more overcrowded than usual.
Children in Gaza have experienced three wars between Israel and Hamas over the past six years. This summer’s seven-week conflict was the longest and most destructive, with the highest number of people killed, injured and displaced from their homes. In a territory that measures only 25 miles in length and 7 in width at its broadest point, civilians have not been able to escape the fighting. As a result, children comprise a quarter of the total Palestinian dead.
School authorities decided to start this school year differently. For at least the first week — longer in some schools — academics were put on hold. Instead, visiting therapists or the school’s own teachers led children in art, drama and other creative activities like play therapy.
Therapist Mohmmad Kahloot said it helps him to see kids smiling again. “When they overcome such a catastrophe and smile, this gives us relief,” he said. “This gives us hope for tomorrow.”
His colleagues say after this summer, even the therapists in Gaza need therapy. So do parents.
The psychologist acknowledged that the stress of conflict can show up in different ways, and encouraged parents and families to try to put the war behind them.
That may be most difficult for families who have no home to return to. More than 50,000 people are still living in 19 United Nations-run schools.