Deir el-Balah, in the heart of the Gaza Strip – Mohamed Abushawish, a psychologist, has set up shop inside the bustling courtyard of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital to offer young people seeking refuge there early psychological support.
Abushawish offers kid-friendly activities in the hospital’s hallways and open areas while Israel continues to bombard Gaza.
About 300 families have stayed in the hospital since the start of the war. Following Israeli authorities’ directives for Gaza City residents to move to the southern side of the Strip, the number has steadily increased.
The kids hesitantly join Abushawish’s active circle after he gently invites them inside.
Hamsa Irshi, a 10-year-old, joins the other kids in the circle in clapping while grinning broadly. She told Al Jazeera the tale of how her family left their home in eastern Gaza City’s al-Daraj neighborhood.
My mother, three siblings, and I visited my uncle’s home in Deir el-Balah last Friday, she said. However, their entire family was killed that same night when Israeli air raids targeted my uncle’s home.
Hamsa briefly resisted crying before continuing.
“The direct strike was a little ways away from the room where we were.” They were able to save us from the rubble despite my mother’s minor injuries.
Only her mother, three brothers, and two cousins remained from the bombing at her uncle’s house that evening. The families of her three uncles were murdered. Still in Gaza City are Hamsa’s father and other siblings.
Hamsa participates actively in the mental support activities despite her shock, discussing her aversion to war. She declares, “I don’t feel safe,” in a desperate attempt to put an end to it.
Meanwhile, Malak Khatab, a 12-year-old who typically resides in the Deir el-Balah camp, expressed her enjoyment of the activities. She claimed that more of these kinds of activities would make the kids happier.
Malak recalled a terrifying night from the previous week when she and her family were terrified when their neighbor’s house was bombed. She described how a massive explosion followed by falling debris abruptly roused them. Malak’s father was desperately attempting to keep her safe as she found herself engulfed in debris. Later, they were saved by civil defense teams.
The bombing severely damaged the home of the Khatab family as well as other nearby residences. They were consequently compelled to seek safety in the hospital, where they are currently sleeping. No more beds are available.
“The voice of my father grew softer.”
Anas al-Mansi, 12, is lying on a mattress in the hospital yard nearby, seemingly unconcerned with the kids’ antics going on all around him. Anas initially objected, but after talking to his uncle convincingly, he finally agreed to speak with Al Jazeera.
He said, “I don’t have a desire to do anything,” to justify his lack of interest in the activities. Then Anas described how tragically his father and aunt had died last week in an airstrike on their home in Deir el-Balah.
He recalled a night when they were sound asleep when the peace was abruptly disturbed by an enormous explosion. Except for his father’s final instructions to recite “Shahadatain” (declaration of faith), Anas was unable to recall the specifics.
“I was buried under rubble and dust as my father’s voice gradually faded away. My father didn’t pick up the phone when I called, Anas said. “I was aware that he might die.”
Anas exposed his back as he spoke, showing numerous cuts and bruises. Before being saved, the family spent some time trapped beneath the debris.
“My mother is still in the hospital after getting hurt in her legs, and my brother also has severe back injuries that prevent him from walking.”
Anas expressed his desire for the war to end quickly but added that he has no desire to resume what might be considered a normal life.
He firmly asserted, “There is no life.”
According to Abushawish, the hospital’s mental health unit has committed specifically to helping these kids. He continued, “All of these factors have had a significant negative impact on their psychological well-being. Many of them have relatives who are hurt, dead, or have been displaced and are now seeking shelter in the hospital.”
According to Abushawish, the trauma is also causing the children to experience distressing psychological and physical symptoms.
He claimed that the relentless bombings in the Gaza Strip had a direct impact on these symptoms, including abdominal pain, headaches, feet, involuntary urination, and rapid heartbeats.
Abushawish continued by saying that many kids are clearly showing signs of post-traumatic stress as a result of losing their parents and being rescued from debris days later.
Children, the most vulnerable members of society, should not have to endure such horrifying and overwhelming events, he claimed.
Particularly in light of the ongoing conflict, the therapeutic activities act as essential initial psychological aid and quick intervention to lessen the children’s traumatic effects.
There is no immediate sign that the war will soon come to an end. As a result, “Abushawish concluded,” these activities assist them in surviving, enduring, and adapting to their environment.