The first group of children who have lost their parents or caregivers in the Gaza war have arrived at the SOS Children's Village Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Up to 55 children will be cared for in the children’s village under an agreement with a partner agency. The children will join the more than 70 children currently living in the village.
“We are committed to doing our best to accommodate the unaccompanied and separated children, recognizing the responsibility this places on our organization,” said an SOS Children's Villages Palestine spokesperson. "We will bring in two experienced retired SOS Mothers to provide care for the newly admitted children along with the necessary pedagogical staff needed." (The names of staff members are being withheld out of safety concerns).
Five unaccompanied children recently arrived at the children’s village. Some show signs of severe emotional trauma and are receiving psychological care.
One of the children is a three-year-old girl who was brought to SOS Children’s Villages by the partner agency. She who was found alone at one of the check points in Gaza.
“The first assessment of the child indicated that she suffers from severe psychological trauma resulting in what is known as ‘selective mutism’ in addition to anxiety and fear as a result of what she was exposed to or what her family was exposed to,” said a psychologist at the SOS Children’s Villages in Rafah. The girl also received medical attention at a local hospital to treat some wounds.
“The SOS mother and the children with whom she will be living were prepared for her arrival,” said the psychologist. “They also made sure to welcome her with gifts to help her feel comfortable in her new environment.”
Despite her psychological state, the girl started within days to interact with her caregiver and the other children in the household. She began sharing toys with them and going out to the yard to play.
“We noticed that she now feels safer, and that she is more able to cope with the traumatic event that she went through,” the psychologist explained. “We continue to provide specialized psychological assistance to help her according to her specific individual needs.”
The number of children who have lost one or both parents is estimated at 24,000 to 25,000, according to a report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. More than 21,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza, of which 70% are women and children, states a most recent OCHA Report.
Gaza at risk of famine
After almost three months of war in Gaza, with food, water, medicine, and cooking gas in scarce supply, SOS Children’s Villages in Rafah has managed to provide meals and care for the children, as well as provide support to hundreds in the community.
The World Health Organization reports that 93% of the population in Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger, with insufficient food and high levels of malnutrition.
“There are many challenges besides the food shortage in the community,” an SOS Children’s Villages staff member said. “There is a lack of medicine in pharmacies, and health centers are no longer functional. Large hospitals are now mainly receiving wounded people. We sometimes resort to a neighbor, a nurse, who helps us treat children when needed.”
Water is also scarce in general. “Potable water is not available for the majority in the community. Many depend on help from aid organizations,” the staff member said.
SOS Children’s Villages in Rafah supports people in many ways, including providing shelter to unaccompanied children, emergency cash support and mental health services for internally displaced families who are programme participants.