Press Release

“Why did they have to bomb my doll?” As children face a mental health crisis in Gaza, IRC partners with NGO Anera to address psychological trauma

Amman, Jordan, March 11, 2024 – As the crisis in Gaza continues, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is deeply concerned about the escalating mental health and psychological toll on civilians, particularly children, who are grappling with the devastating impacts of war. In response to this urgent need, the IRC is partnering with Anera, a prominent organization with decades of experience in Palestine, to address the psychological well-being of war-affected children in Gaza.

The situation in Gaza has reached a critical juncture, with civilians enduring relentless violence; continuous bombardment; severe lack of food, water and basic resources owing to the Israeli blockade; whilst facing profound challenges to their mental health. Children are bearing the worst of the conflict. At least 17,000 children are unaccompanied or separated from their parents. At least 1,000 have suffered traumatic amputations from the bombardment. And one in six children in the north – where aid has been completely cut off by the Israelis – are acutely malnourished. The daily reality of children in Gaza has a new acronym: ‘WCNSF’ — wounded child, no surviving family. The trauma and stress of living in a conflict zone leaves lasting scars on individuals and communities, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and creating a pressing need for specialized support.

The IRC, in partnership with Anera, is actively working to provide essential mental health and psychosocial support to children affected by the crisis in schools being used as shelters in the Rafah, Khan Younis and Deir Al Balah governorates in Gaza. Through a comprehensive approach that prioritizes the needs of children between the ages of 4 and 18, our teams are implementing therapeutic activities including play, art therapy, and life skills training. Our activities are designed to empower children to cope with their experiences, express themselves creatively, and develop essential life skills for the future, thereby promoting healing, resilience, and emotional wellbeing. By fostering a safe and supportive environment, we aim to mitigate the long-term impacts of trauma and promote positive mental health outcomes for children and families in Gaza.

Suad Lubbad, Anera’s Psychosocial Program Manager in Gaza said,

“Before the war, 90% of children and caregivers in Gaza already felt unsafe and distressed. The impact of the war has only intensified these feelings. From the sights and sounds of bombardments to the challenges of securing basic necessities, our children now struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty. The destruction, displacement, and loss are unimaginable. Every aspect of life, from finding food and water to seeking medical care, has become a privilege. Children wake up uncertain whether it will be to another day of an empty stomach or the sounds of war. This war is different; the death toll, displacement, and loss are incomparable. Our children are suffering mentally and physically in every aspect of life. I’ve come across numerous children, including those aged 10-14, who experience bedwetting. Many of them have lost friends and loved ones and are struggling to comprehend the reasons behind these losses. Some carry feelings of guilt, believing they couldn’t protect those they lost. These children carry a heavy burden on their mental health. The children in Gaza are not numbers, each Palestinian life matters. It is our duty not to fail them.”

Arvind Das, IRC Gaza Field Director said,

“The mental health crisis in Gaza is reaching alarming levels, with children taking the brunt of the conflict’s psychological toll. I recently met a little girl, holding a broken doll beside a destroyed house. Crying, she asked me, ‘Why did they have to bomb my doll?’ I wish I had an answer. Each time I visit a hospital – Al Aqsa, Nasser, or the European Hospital – many of the wounded patients are children. Through our partnership with Anera, we are working to ensure that children and families receive the support they need to cope with the horrors of this conflict. Together, we are committed to promoting resilience and strength for the people of Gaza, knowing the toll this war will take on childrens’ mental health for years to come.”

The IRC and Anera call for an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the profound suffering of children in Gaza and allow for the scale up of all aid including mental health programming and the ability to provide safe spaces for children without the constant fear of violence.

Notes to editors:

About the IRC
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC works in more than 50 countries and in 28 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. In Gaza, the IRC is working with partners providing emergency and life-saving medical care, including direct medical care at hospitals, and the distribution of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, delivering food, and providing critical services in shelters including healthcare, cash assistance, and psychological support for children and caregivers to cope with the effects of trauma and displacement.

About Anera
Anera is non-political, non-religious, and one of the largest American nonprofits working in the Middle East. For over 50 years, Anera has been a leading provider of emergency response, livelihood opportunities, health, education, early childhood development and employment programs to refugees and vulnerable communities throughout the region. In Gaza, Anera has been helping families for over 35 years cultivating long term partnerships with local organizations and gaining the trust and confidence of the community. Prior to the current crisis, Anera focused its development work on WASH interventions and agriculture projects including rooftop gardens, women’s economic empowerment, medical donations, early childhood development and community infrastructure.