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Gaza: Healing the traumatized city

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GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - By Thomas Ekelund

"My child has stopped talking" one woman says. "I have a boy who is 15 years old. Since the war he has become a bed-wetter. He can't go to the bathroom at night", says another. We are at the Ahli Ali Hospital in the centre of Gaza City. The hospital offers a psychosocial program to women once admitted at the hospital. It is a life saver, one woman says.

At Ahli Ali hospital 20 women are gathered for a three hours work shop. Every one heavily engaged in the discussions. This is the first time for many of these women to talk about how they and their family have reacted to the experiences of war. They talk about the rising domestic violence, fathers frustrated about not being able to support their families, young boys suddenly hitting their parents and their siblings.

Better mothers

In front of the group stands psychologist Mr Maher Wahlin and today's topic is parenthood. The session is part of the psychosocial program at the hospital and the women gathered today are all from the community, selected and brought together by the hospitals social worker. In June the group of six professionals started awareness raising sessions for women with support from ACT International and the representative of Norwegian Church Aid in Gaza. "The goal is to make mothers aware of normal behaviours in an abnormal situation, Mr Wahlin says. As parents we have to try to read our children, to understand their behaviours. Because if we don't know, someone else will".

Mr Wahlin says this is the first step in becoming a community based psychosocial program. "We start by giving these women tools to "read" their children, to change their bad behaviours. In a next step the fathers, the families and the community needs to be involved in a psychosocial program."

The men, too

Tesa is 21 years old, but not the youngest woman in the group. She is a student in sociology at the university and attends this session to be a better mother and a better future consultant. "These three hours have been very good and very important to me. I want to know more about myself", she says. "In that way I can be of better help to others, and a better mother."

Mr Maher Wahlin wants to do more. "We seek to have two or three sessions with the same group in the future, and invite their husbands. One session is not enough, and the women need support from their men."

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.