by Leila Richards

We’re familiar with many of the problems confronting survivors of war or trauma living with post-traumatic stress disorder. But how do individuals respond to ongoing trauma? And how do children already living in poverty and squalor manage to cope with never- ending stress?

The Gaza strip, which has been under an Israeli military blockade for more than a decade, is home to more than 1.9 million Palestinians, most of whom are refugees. Half of its inhabitants are children under 18. Children under the age of 10 have already experienced three major Israeli military assaults. More than half of Gaza’s children suffer from PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, including anxiety, intense fear, depression, eating and sleeping disorders, and violence.

The UN agency responsible for providing education, primary health care, and humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees is UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East). In 2002 UNRWA established the Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) in Gaza to assist Palestinians who had lost their ability to cope with deteriorating living conditions. The CMHP now provides mental health counseling, conflict mediation, and crisis intervention services tochildren, families and other victims of violence, and has a mental health counselor in each Gaza school. With three centers in Gaza, the GCMHP also offers physiotherapy and occupational therapy, trains mental health staff, and operates a summer camp for children.

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The United States had customarily been UNRWA’s largest donor, providing $350 million annually. But last August the Trump administration abruptly cut UNRWA’s funding to $0, forcing the agency to make drastic staff cuts at its schools and clinics. According to UNRWA, more than 1500 girls in Gaza seeking mental health counseling are now served by one part-time staff member.

For several years UNRWA’s national office in Washington DC has sponsored a 5K Run-Walk to benefit Gaza’s mental health programme, and assisted other cities in hosting similar events. With the help of a dedicated committee of volunteers, Pittsburgh is rising to the challenge and hosting a 4K walk for UNRWA in Schenley Park on Saturday, October 19 from 10 am to 1pm. Our goal is not only to to raise funds but to educate participants about the crucial support that UNRWA has provided to Palestinian refugee families for more than 70 years. We’re inviting you to help us publicize and join in our 4K4 Gaza Kids. For more information about the walk email

Children are doubly affected by traumas related to the Israeli occupation.

Leila Richards is a supporter of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

Originally published VOL 49 No. 7, September 2019



Categories: News

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