Musicians calm stretched nerves of traumatised children in Gaza

2015-07-20 21:06
Palestinians gather at a destroyed house targeted in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib, AFP)

Palestinians gather at a destroyed house targeted in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib, AFP)

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Gaza City - In the rubble of eastern Gaza City's Sheja'eyah neighbourhood, flattened during last summer's Israel-Gaza war, Sarah Aburamadan and five other musicians remove drums, a violin and a keyboard from their black bags in front of a group of children.

"How are you kids?" Aburamadan asks. "We came here to play with you and sing beautiful songs together, what do you think?"

Every morning for two weeks, 23-year-old Aburamadan and her other bandmates have wandered through the crumbling landscape of Gaza neighbourhoods with their instruments on their backs, meeting up with groups of children for therapeutic jam sessions.

Their efforts are part of Play and Joy, a programme to treat traumatised children in the Gaza Strip.

The programme, sponsored by the Gaza-based Tamer Institute for Community Culture, encourages participants to play music, sing and read stories with children, who are found in co-ordination with their parents or other local centres.

Musa Tawfiq, a lute player in Aburamadan's band and music team leader at the Tamer Institute, says the physical damage to Gaza's infrastructure is visible and can be fixed "sooner or later".

The psychological impact on the children who lived through the war, Tawfiq says, is not always so obvious.

During the 51-day war, 551 children were killed and more than 2,000 injured, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) says.

But another 326 000 children suffer from psychological problems and need psychotherapy, the UN agency says, and many of them are not receiving the treatment they should.

Sami Oweida, a consultant in psychiatry for children and adolescents in the Gaza Mental Health Programme, says that the psychological rehabilitation process has struggled to move forward in the year since the Gaza war.

Oweida says his own mental health programme and other organisations had made some progress with patients. But in recent weeks, when lone Salafists fired six rockets into Israel and Israel responded with single air strikes, those accomplishments were "gone with the winds", triggering the children's memories from the war.

The music therapy offered by Aburamadan and her band is badly needed, Oweida says. 

"Our message is that everything can be fixed or renovated, like houses, cars," Aburamadan says.

"[But] to renovate the spirits and the moods of those children, you don't need cement, or construction materials, or donations. All you need is fun and joy," the singer says. "And I believe that this can only be done through music and singing."

Aburamandan's band also offers the children therapy through conversation, "helping them talk about what is buried and hidden inside their minds".

Five boys and five girls, between eight and 12 years old, stand smiling in a circle around the musicians, some of them playing wooden percussion instruments handed to them.

"I feel more comfortable and happy when I sing or play music with Fares and Sarah," says 13-year-old Mahmoud Abu Daggen, referring to drummer Fares Anbar and Aburamadan.

Daggen and his three sisters moved with his family from United Arab Emirates to Gaza just months before the war.

"I have never lived such a horrible war in my life," he says. "I still can't forget the huge sounds of bombs and explosions."

While her bandmates tell jokes to the children to try to make them laugh, Aburamadan suggests playing a game.

"How about closing your eyes for two minutes, while Iyad and Sa'eed play music for you," the singer says. "Think about what you see from the past and how you see the future."

Iman, 13, closes her eyes and says she saw warplanes bombing houses at first.

But listening to the music, she says she imagines herself in a large garden with beautiful flowers.

"I'm standing in the middle, painting a beautiful portrait ... Maybe it is paradise where all martyrs live."

Read more on:    palestine

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