How a small school bus helps children in Gaza access education

Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA’s Quality Impact and Monitoring Officer, Jeremy Smith, is based in Ramala. This month he shares some of the work APHEDA is involved in helping the Palestinian children in Gaza access education.

The 2014 war on Gaza devastated the Palestinian education sector; 450 government and private schools, kindergartens and tertiary institutions were destroyed or damaged and a further 83 UN schools were at least partially damaged. While the recovery work continues slowly, it is often delayed by the day-to-day challenges of providing quality education to children who need somewhere to go to school in the meantime. One of Union Aid Aboad-APHEDA’s partner organisations, the Afaq Jadeeda Association (new horizons in Arabic) in Nuseirat refugee camp has been dealing with this challenge since the war.

Damaged and destroyed kindergartens meant a large number of children suddenly needed somewhere else to go, so Afaq Jadeeda responded and extended their hours, opening a second shift to accommodate these extra children. Having a fun place to learn and interact with other children is crucial for the psychosocial recovery of the children in the camp, The normalcy creates a sense of safety to help dull the ever-present fear of another war. Creating a safe space for children is of paramount importance. Dr Mona El-Farra who supports the work at Afaq Jadeeda said after the fragile truce took place: “for 51-days children in Gaza heard the sound of bombs and lived with absolute terror all day and all night. They were not safe in their homes and they were not safe in shelters.

But Afaq Jadeeda offers more than just a safe space to learn; they also run a proactive program targeted at children and their families called ‘Let the Children Play and Heal’. The program uses fun activities and games to address war experiences and help children articulate how the war impacted on them and their families. The sessions are led by psychologists who are able to observe and provide additional follow up counselling for children who need it. But the program isn’t solely targeted at kids, the program psychologists also train parents, teachers and wider family members about how to identify signs of trauma and respond to it in the home and/or school.

The program continues to show positive results and APHEDA has supported its extension and reach by helping Afaq Jadeeda purchase a school bus! The bus helps children from areas further away come to the kindergarten, increasing the proportion of children in the camp attending the centre and giving parents peace of mind that their children are safe. The bus is also used to transport children on excursions, sometimes just to a sporting park where the children can run around in a wide, safe location away from the cramped reality of the refugee camp.

Letting children be children, to learn and play in safe spaces and to address trauma is crucial for both their recovery and the longer term recovery of the whole Gaza Strip.

You can see more about the children’s project here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcGuXv9D274&feature=youtu.be

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