January 09

Talk to the wall

This is the third and last in my mini-series of blogs about children in conflict, looking at the immediate and longer term impact of conflict on children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. If you haven’t already, do read my earlier blogs about the situation facing children in Yemen and in Myanmar.

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Mornings in my house have a familiar ring to them …

“Have you got your pencil case? Why have you chewed another pen!? Have you got a break time snack? Be careful at the crossing, cars don’t always stop you know. No! you can’t take slime/fidget spinner/pokemon card/<insert latest craze> to school, it’ll still be here when you get back.”

“Muuuuuuum, stop nagging! Do I have to go to school today? …. it’s too early, can’t I stay in bed just a little bit longer?”

Sometimes I feel as if I might as well talk to the wall … my 10-year old son doesn’t yet know how lucky he is.  About 2500 miles away there is a similar, but oh so different, routine for another 10-year old boy …

“There aren’t any pencils son, you’ll have to make do without today.   Keep your bread safe, there won’t be any more this evening.   Remember! Run as fast as you can past Block D, I heard there was a man with a gun in there yesterday. Come on, off you go, your school might not even be here next week”

“Muuuuum, stop nagging!   Do I have to go to school today? … I’m too scared, and it’s really cold cos the windows in my classroom are all broken”

This little boy really does talk to the wall every morning … the section of the 440-mile wall (aka the Israeli-West Bank barrier) that lines his 1-mile walk to his makeshift, shell-blasted school.

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What is it like for children in oPt?  A ten-year old living in the besieged Gaza Strip or West Bank that forms the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) has already endured the horrors of armed conflict on his doorstep 3 times over (in 2009, 2012 and 2014).  Many children now live in makeshift shelters, a small caravan or a partially bombed house, their families barely scraping by on a daily basis.

“This fear grips me and a lot of children, sometimes during the day, I would think about the nightmares I had the whole time.  The blockade, the air attacks, and the war all affect my dreams, ambitions and personality. I fear what the future holds.”  said 15-year old Samar, interviewed by Save the Children.

What are the consequences?  There is ample evidence that Gaza’s children are seriously falling behind; from chronic malnutrition, from lack of schooling following the destruction of schools and from the longer term mental health problems as children struggle to recover emotionally from the traumas.  A generation of children are now on the brink of a mental health crisis, with high numbers routinely displaying symptoms of depression, hyperactivity, isolation and aggression. The 11-year Egyptian-Israeli blockade has severely curtailed the quality of life, youth unemployment is at 60% and those living in poverty is now at 50%.

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What support is needed?  Despite what they face on a daily basis, these children show remarkable resilience.  Family security means everything – be it being able to talk openly about the problems, and feeling cared for and supported. Save the Children is doing amazing work on the ground in oPt, bringing assistance for essentials and introducing more mental health and psycho-social support into schools, extra-curricular activities and homes.  While there is a continued call to address the root cause – to stop the blockade – there is much that still can be done on the ground to give these children back their basic rights, and most importantly a brighter and more hopeful future.

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bethlehem-carol-sheet-cover-for-webOn Christmas Eve, I attended a traditional service of nine lessons and carols at my local church.  The ‘Bethlehem Carol Sheets‘ used were provided by EmbraceMe, a Christian charity also tackling poverty and injustice in the Middle East.  The carol sheets featured several stories of the struggles of daily life for children and families in the Middle East, yet the smiles and expressions of hope and solidarity in the photos made me feel confident in the strength of the human spirit.   As I celebrated and indulged in peace, comfort and happiness with my family – I gave thanks for the many blessings we have and thought about the ways I want to continue to take action to protect less fortunate children, especially those caught up in conflict.

I am so very proud to have spent six months working at Save the Children, helping them prepare to launch a bigger-than-ever global campaign to ‘Stop the War on Children’, to mark their centenary year.  I feel confident that this will help to create more positive change in the world; be it influencing international politics to stop injustice that harms children, raising funds to increase the humanitarian support for children impacted by conflict and helping to establish sustainable programmes that help to rebuild the traumatised lives, giving children back the hopeful and happy future they are entitled to.

Happy New Year to you all – may it be filled with peace, prosperity and proactivity (Yes, please also take action to Stop the War on Children in 2019!).

#changecommunities #stopthewaronchildren #makeschoolssafe #ivolunteer #PULSE10 #doingnothingisnotanoption

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and not those of Save the Children or GSK.