In Gaza Strip, the healing power of music
Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip - Singer Sarah Ramadan and three colleagues are using music to treat Gaza Strip children suffering severe traumas from the July 2015 Israeli war.
Ramadan, Fares Anbar on drums, Iyad Rashid playing the violin and Saeed Faddel at the electric piano take their instruments every morning to an area destroyed in the war to meet children and play music.
Called Play and Joy, the programme is sponsored by the private Gaza-based Tamer Institute for Social Culture. It is devoted to treating traumatised children by playing music, singing or reading stories.
“The project aims to treat children who suffer from post-war traumas caused by last summer’s Israeli war on Gaza or those who live in devastated areas and know nothing about music,” Tamer’s project coordinator, Mohammed Zyara, said.
“The damages resulting from the war are seen and felt in every aspect of life but they will be fixed one day. However, nobody talks about the war’s psychological effect and when the suffering of the children will end.”
On a recent sunny day, Ramadan and the three male musicians stopped outside a heavily damaged neighbourhood, grabbed their instruments from the trunk of their vehicle and walked to an open lot that serves as a playground in Beit Hanoun, a town in northern Gaza not far from the Israeli border.
Ten children — five boys and five girls, aged between 8 and 12 — sat on coloured plastic chairs that came from a school in the area. Some of the children beamed smiles while others looked anxious.
“How are you, dudes?” Ramadan asked as she greeted them.
“Fine, thank you, teacher,” the children replied.
“We came here to play music for you and sing beautiful songs together. How about that?” Ramadan asked
The eager reply came quickly: “Yes. Yes.”
Before Ramadan started singing she told the children that she had a game to play with them, saying. “I want you to close your eyes for two minutes while my friends play music. I want you to think about what you see from the past and how you expect to see them when you grow up.”
When the children reopened their eyes, they were asked to say what they saw.
Iman, 13, said she saw “Israeli warplanes bombing houses and killing children.”
“I hope there will be no more wars,” she said. She then quickly added that she later saw herself in a huge flower-filled garden “painting a beautiful portrait”.
“Maybe what I saw was paradise, where all the martyrs are,” she said.
Ramadan said the musicians were trying “to bring hope to the children, to hear from them about their dreams and what they see when they close their eyes and have them listen to music”.
“This is actually how we treat children and help them vent out what is buried inside them,” she said.
The UN’s children agency, UNICEF, said in a report that 31% of the civilian victims of the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza were children. It noted that an average of ten children were killed daily, the youngest was a 3-month-old.
Although the 2,000 Gaza children who were physically wounded in the conflict were treated, UNICEF maintains that an additional 326,000 children who suffer from various psychological problems haven’t been treated yet.
Sami Oweida, a psychiatric consultant in the Gaza Mental Health Programme, said more than 60% of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million encountered psychological problems. He confirmed UNICEF’s report that 326,000 children in Gaza need psychotherapy. “What the musicians are doing is needed,” Oweida said.
“It has been almost one year since the war ended, but little has been accomplished to rehabilitate the children with the post-war traumas.”
Although the war officially ended with a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in a deal brokered by Egypt on August 26th, random skirmishes and Israeli strikes continue.
“All what had been accomplished within the past 11 months either by young volunteers like those musicians or by our mental health programme had gone with the wind,” Oweida said.
“We’re back to square one. The recent air strikes on Gaza brought back to those children the bad memories of the war.”