This project is financed by the resources of OU Israel and by general contributions made to the OU Israel Emergency Fund. This report relates to activities in Sderot, Bet Shemesh and Ramat Bet Shemesh. All of these workshops took place between July 16-20. There is more work that needs to be done in other towns in Israel’s south. This includes Ofakim, Netivot, Yeruham, Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Kiryat Malachi.
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Purposes of this project:
• To lower the post-traumatic effect of continuous attack of missiles on the children and teenagers in southern Israel.
• To identify children and teenagers who have been traumatized by the war and need psychological intervention.
• To treat those who have been traumatized by the war.
• To provide guidance and supervision to the staff working with the children and teenagers who have been exposed to the war.
• Post-trauma interactive workshops for children and teenagers.
• Group post-trauma therapy for children and teenagers.
Post-Trauma Intervention Workshops
The intervention team was dismayed to discover that students in these towns have not participated in any crisis intervention programs.These are students who have been subjected to hundreds of missile attacks over the years. They have lost friends and family members and yet have received no psychological counseling or crisis intervention.
The school administration was delightedby the prospect of beginning a post-trauma intervention program with their students. The administrators are extremely concerned that many of the students are suffering from PTSD.
All of the students have experienced war firsthand. They have spent time in shelters. Most of them come from low socio-economic backgrounds and do not have the necessary support systems required to help them adequately deal with the shock, terror and fears that overwhelm them daily.
It was decided to begin the crisis intervention project by providing the students with the post-trauma interactive workshop which was originally developed after the War in Lebanon in August 2006.It was also used effectively in Sderot and during Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012 in Kiryat Malachi.
The workshops for Operation Protective Edge were run in small groups of 5-6 students to enable the children to participate fully, feel comfortable with the facilitator and to express emotions and feelings that arose during the workshop.
They were enthusiastic about the workshops. They worked with specially designed diagnostic worksheets which enabled both the students and the facilitators to determine which parts of their lives are still negatively affected by the war. Art therapy techniques were also used. Students with post-trauma symptoms were noted for further intervention.
The goal of the workshop was to enable the students to talk about the war. This includes :
• How it affects them on a daily basis
• How it affects their lives and families, and
• How it affects their ability to concentrate and succeed in school.
These children have continuously been exposed to life-threatening missile attacks and yet have not had the opportunity to talk about the war or about their feelings and their fears.
They were very responsive to the workshops. They enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and participated fully. They enjoyed the coloring and hands-on aspects of the workshops as well as the chance to talk about how they were feeling and readjusting to a war that seems to have no end.
The students spoke of a variety of thoughts and reactions:
• How frightened they are during missile attacks
• How they live in perpetual fear that they will not hear the siren or reach the shelter in time
• How they are afraid of being hurt or killed
• How they are afraid that their parents, siblings or friends will be hurt or killed.
Many of the students described their fears that the siren will go off while they are showering or sleeping and they will not be able to get to a safe place in time. Many of them talked about running to shelters with young siblings in their arms. They also spoke about how difficult it is for them to fall asleep at night or to concentrate in school. They are petrified that they will fail all of their exams because they have severe difficulty concentrating in school and learning the required material. Many of the students discussed how the war is affecting their families and especially their siblings.
The students talked about feeling anxious, crying more often than usual, not being able to concentrate, fighting with their siblings and friends, and a general feeling of sadness. They talked a great deal about the fact that missiles have fallen in the school grounds or near their homes. They are convinced that the terrorists have their school schedules and fire the missiles when they are walking to and from school and during recess. How can they feel safe in school or at home when missiles have fallen in the exact places where they are supposed to feel safe?
All of the children expressed a real fear and anxiety that the war will get worse. Most of them are petrified that as the war continues, they, their families or friends will be the next victims. The fear that the war will get worse and that they are helpless to control it or prevent it is a recurring theme that was brought up in all of the workshops. They are petrified of losing their homes.
The students in Ramat Bet Shemesh expressed many of the same concerns as other children. One difference was the concern they expressed for their mothers. They described their mothers as being frightened, nervous and crying a lot. Most felt that they often had too many responsibilities for younger siblings because their mothers were so stressed by the situation. Many felt that they had no one to talk to about their personal fears and feelings.
During the workshops all of the students are helped to identify the feelings they are experiencing concerning the war. Putting a name to these feelings often provides the child with a sense of control and relief.
The most important part of the workshop is to help the students develop a personal toolbox which helps them cope with their fears and feelings. The toolbox also helps them cope with future traumas or missile attacks. The students were enthusiastic about building this personal toolbox and expressed positive feelings upon completion of the toolbox. Relaxation and visualization techniques were introduced to help them learn to calm themselves down and find their own safe place within.
It is imperative that every child and teenager who has been exposed to recurrent missile attacks in Israel receives the post-trauma intervention workshop. Many of the children and teenagers also indicate a need for therapy groups to help them deal with their PTSD and the war that doesn’t end.