Palestine: psychosocial support puts smiles on orphans’s faces in Qalqilya

Published: 17 June 2010 0:00 CET

Ali Obaidat, Qalqilya, West Bank

Margret Al Ra’i, a psychosocial worker at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), brings joy and hope to orphaned children in Qalqilya. Her smile, the toys she brings and the stories she tells bring colour and joy to the lives of the 28 children who live at the Dar Al Iman Home for orphans. These children, ranging in age from 5 to 14 years old, have big dreams, looking for new hope in a life where they have no family to love and protect them.

Halima, Hadeel, Ibrahim, Ghadeer, Ra’fat and their friends have found hope, smiles and an outlet for creativity with Margret and her colleagues, Jalal, Samer and Iman from the PRCS Psychosocial Health Department in Qalqilya.

As Mary (the name her friends and colleagues call Margret) walks into the orphanage courtyard, all 28 children race to greet her with hugs fit for parents, and accompany her into the building, eager to share what they have with her. The attending supervisors are no different; Jenan, Kalthoum, Zeinab and Wafa rush to welcome Mary.

This warm relationship between the PRCS and Dar Al Iman (the orphanage was established in 1997) is the result of six months of close cooperation. Mary and her colleagues succeeded in opening the closed doors of the orphanage, in all senses of the word, and in bringing happiness to its residents. She conforts the youngsters, dispenses hugs, listens to their problems, wipes tears before they fall and brings out hidden smiles. If she senses a problem, she takes the child to another room and, using debriefing techniques acquired during her long experience in psychosocial work, listens and discusses the issue until the youngster comes out of the room smiling.

Mary, who has been working with the PRCS for five years, is visibly elated to see the joy on the children’s faces. She and her colleagues are proud of the results achieved. "I am very happy that we have managed to take these children out of their isolation and make them more open and tolerant with other people,” explains Mary. “Now, they can express their feelings and needs openly and without hesitation. In addition, I and my colleagues work with the orphanage's supervisors and help them acquire new skills and knowledge about how to deal with the children's problems. This has reinforced the ties within this big family and strengthened trust and dialogue."

Halima is an eight-year-old girl, whose world, before the arrival of the PRCS team, was confined to the orphanage premises and the school, like the other children, and whose dreams did not go beyond the street that connected the two, and the grocery store next door. Halima, whose eyes speak faster than her tongue, says that Mary and her colleagues have expanded the boundaries of their world and opened doors to life ‘outside’, through educational and entertaining activities. When asked about how she felt before Aunt Mary came into their lives, a feigned cloud of sadness immediately comes over Halima’s face. When asked how things have been since Aunt Mary arrived, a smile wider than the walls of the orphanage appears, accompanied by huge applause from her friends who shout their approval.

The work that Mary and her colleagues do with the children is not limited to smiles or solving troubles. It has also resulted in a manifest improvement of the children’s academic achievements. Ghadeer, a girl attending fifth grade, says her grades have improved since the PRCS started working in Dar Al Iman.

Yousef Nazzal, an administrator at the orphanage, confirms. He praises the efforts of the PRCS team and the support they give to the children, their supervisors and the administrator. It has, he says, significantly affected the children’s lives. According to Nazzal, Dar Al Iman has been able, with the help of the PRCS team, to open its doors to the local community, to weave relationships with other organizations and break down the barriers with the outside world. He hopes the Palestinian authorities and other organizations will continue to support Dar Al Iman, which relies on charitable donations, to help build a better future for Halima and her friends and to provide other orphans with the same opportunities.

Jenan Jalal, who is also a supervisor at the orphanage, points out the positive impact of Margaret and her colleagues on the team, which has allowed her to significantly improve her professional skills. Her colleague, Zeinab Awwad, also notes the new positive attitude amongst the children in working out their problems and the close relationships she and her colleagues have been able to develop with them. 

Jalal Odeh, the PRCS psychosocial department coordinator in Qalqilya, explains that the work taking place at the orphanage is part of a plan – begun in 2003 with support from the Danish, Icelandic, Italian and French Red Cross Societies. This programme has been implemented by the PRCS in the districts of Tubas, Qalqilya, Jenin, Hebron, Tulkarem and Jerusalem. It targets fifth and sixth grade students, their teachers, parents and the local communities and is supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection.