A Chance to Heal

A Chance to Heal

Publication info

Ahmad Hennawi, CARE West Bank Gaza

My name is Israa’ Salman Al-Rehel. I am 10 years old and I live with my family of eight in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip. Since I was four, I have had a hard time seeing and must use prescription glasses. I was self-conscious of my eye problems and all of the other children in the kindergarten teased me.

Just a few years after discovering my eye problems, the war broke out in Gaza on January 27th 2008. I remember the fighting. We were all sitting on the floor in the dark. I was scared and listening to the shelling outside.  Suddenly the war planes bombed our neighbor’s house. Everyone was panicking and ran into the streets screaming and trying to help the survivors. I couldn’t stop screaming and crying in fear. I didn’t want to die.

My mother, Na’eema, who was pregnant and about to give birth, gathered all of us together and sent us with my grandmother to find shelter in a nearby school. The classrooms in the school were full of people hiding from the bombs. There was no electricity and very little food and water. The sound of the bombs kept shaking the walls, and then suddenly one of them hit the school. I remember the explosions lighting up the dark classrooms in the middle of the night.

Smoke and fire were everywhere and people were running in a panic, shouting that the bombs were full of chemicals. I felt pain in my eyes and couldn’t see anything. I kept searching for family, and I found my grandma but she couldn’t see either. I don’t really remember what happened after that. I just remember waking up in the hospital and both I and my grandma had lost most of our eyesight.

They released us from the hospital because it was full and there were many more injured people. That’s when I found out that my cousin Dina was killed in the bombing.

My mom told me that, after the school had been shelled, she ran to look for us but nobody was there and the school was full of blood. She cried and prayed for our safety until she found us at the hospital. That night was the last night of the three-week bombing of Gaza, and then after that the Israeli army withdrew. The next day we went back to our house. It was badly damaged, but I was so happy the war was over. I also got to see my new little sister Nema for the first time, as my mother had given birth during the war. I couldn’t wait to see my friends from school and check that they were okay.

As life around us slowly returned to normal, I went back to school. But I just didn’t feel like my old self and always seemed to be fighting with everyone. I also began wetting my bed at night. My teachers and the school principal complained to my mother and told her that I was lying, stealing and causing trouble at school and that my grades were poor. My mother was shocked by my behavior because usually I was so calm and polite at home. She found it hard to believe my teachers until she opened up my school bag and found things that I’d stolen from my schoolmates. She was so angry. I remember her crying and saying that she felt like she had lost control of me and that it depressed her to see me that way.

She took me to the hospital to see if I was suffering from any health problems. They told her I was physically healthy besides my eyes but that I was suffering from psychological issues created by the war. Even though the war had ended, I still felt scared most of the time. I kept remembering the horrible sites after the bomb fell - the body parts of the children collected in plastic bags. My mother didn’t know what to do with me.

Just when my mother had nearly lost hope, she saw an advertisement for CARE’s Eye to the Future project, which focuses on improving the behavior of children traumatized by the war. They enrolled me in the program and together my mother and I discussed with the mentors all the problems I was facing. In the first month I didn’t want to take part in the activities because I was too shy to talk to the other children. Sometimes I wouldn’t show up to the activities because I was scared that the mentors would see my bad behavior and tell my mother. But the mentors spent a lot of time finding out who I was, helped to teach me right from wrong and to be more positive about life.

I began participating more and they encouraged me every day. When I saw how much the mentors really cared about me, I made sure to attend every session; sometimes I would even get up early and arrive before the starting time!

I am proud that I became a special and distinguished participant in the program. I still keep the badge I was given and wear it with pride. The teachers tell the other children that they should join the program so they can be like me. Thanks to CARE and the Eye to the Future program, my mother says I have finally begun to heal from the trauma I experienced in the war. I am confident in my skills and talents and play with other children now.

While my poor eyesight still upsets me, I hope that one day I can have an operation to fix my eyes and then I will be able to see everything. I hope that my grandma can also have the operation because her eyes are so beautiful. When I grow up I want to be a doctor so that I can help people if there is another war. I wish to live in safety and hope that there won’t be another war here.

Israa' Salman Al-Rehel, a 10 year old from the Gaza Strip, smiles widely as she swings, something she found no joy in after suffering from psychological trauma of living through a bombing and losing her eyesight.  © 2012 Ahmad Hennawi/CARE