The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) confirmed on Tuesday that 12 of the 63 children killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza over the last week were participating in our programme aimed at helping children deal with trauma.
“We are devastated to learn that 12 children we were helping with trauma were bombarded while they were at home and thought they were safe,” said NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland. “They are now gone, killed with their families, buried with their dreams and the nightmares that haunted them.”
Egeland welcomed yesterday’s ceasefire announcement, but warned: “We need immediate, full and unimpeded access to Gaza and the tens of thousands that have been left homeless and deprived of their belongings. We need to urgently start repairing the damage … and healing the physical and mental scars inflicted once again on the besieged people.”
Many children in Gaza have experienced terrible things that haunt their thoughts. At night, images of violence return in the form of trauma nightmares. Through the Better Learning Programme, NRC teaches children how to cope with these nightmares.
Read more: Children in Gaza are haunted by violence.
On average, children in Gaza have five nightmares per week. When they wake up, they are taken back to the horrific events they have experienced. They relive the same thing over and over again. But by learning breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, they can manage to control their anxiety.
We began our trauma work with children in Gaza in 2012. Today, we work with 118 schools and support more than 75,000 students. The results have been very good: 70 per cent of children say their nightmares have decreased to one per week or disappeared altogether.
Read more about the origins of the Better Learning Programme.
They are not alone
Children often struggle with trauma nightmares over a long period – in some cases, years. And they often do not tell their parents, teachers or friends that nightmares are the cause of their sleeping problems.
Many children think there must be something wrong with them. They think they are alone in feeling the way they do, and may feel embarrassed.
“It is wonderful to see how relieved they are when they experience that they are not alone in feeling that way. Just talking about the issue with teachers and classmates is very helpful,” says professor of educational psychology, Jon-Håkon Schultz. Together with NRC and the University of Tromsø, he has developed the Better Learning Programme.
From 10 May until the recent ceasefire, 65 children were killed in Gaza. The children who have survived are likely to relive the bombing every single night. The escalation in violence also claimed the lives of four children in the West Bank and two children in Israel.