Rescue from Rafah: Three months after their evacuation, children adapt to new life

A group of children enjoy leisure time, playing a game with a parachute outside on a sunny day. The children holding the parachute up and walking around the outside while holding balloons.

To date more than 15,000 children have been killed and over 17,000 have been left without parental care in Gaza. More than 1 million need urgent mental health support.  

Three months after 68 children, their caregivers and their families from the SOS Children’s Village Rafah in Gaza were evacuated to the West Bank, the children live with mixed feelings of joy and guilt. 

They are among the few residents of Gaza who were able to leave the country during the war. 

“Fortunately, there are no more dangers here,” says Ola*, an SOS Children’s Villages caregiver from Rafah when asked about their life now in the West Bank. 

The children and adults arrived at their new temporary home at the SOS Children’s Village in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, on March 11, 2024. The three-day journey by bus took them through Egypt and Israel. 

From the start, the interaction between the local children and those from Gaza was easy going. Ola says: “It is remarkable that our children do not close themselves off after everything they have experienced in the war. I am so proud of them that they can accept their new life in Bethlehem and reach out to other people.” 

‘Will we wake up alive tomorrow morning?’ 

Social worker Eslam* emphasises that the children still need a lot of time. The war, the fear for their own lives, remains with them. She says: “Those who are used to the sounds of battle and fear need time to get used to peace and quiet. In Rafah, the children were under constant stress. They couldn’t just walk out into the street. They first have to get used to such simple things that other people take for granted.” 

Eslam, who has worked as a social worker for SOS Children’s Villages in Gaza for 13 years, accompanied the children on their bus trip from Rafah to Bethlehem. She says: “The symptoms of war still come up: especially at night in the form of bedwetting and nightmares.” 

But there were no longer any peaceful night’s rest in Gaza. “The children constantly came to us and asked: ‘Will we wake up alive tomorrow morning? When will our time come to die? When is it our turn?'” says Eslam. 

Concern for friends 

To process the experiences, the children receive psychological support. Ghada Hirzallah, national director of SOS Children’s Villages in Palestine, said, “They have suffered trauma, but they also have a lot of strength. We take care of their physical and mental health. We have integrated many activities such as painting and dance therapy into their everyday lives, in which they learn to deal with what they have experienced in a playful way. They have a right, like any other child, to live freely and safely, and to pursue their dreams and goals.” 

Not all children find this easy. Ms. Hirzallah said, “They are ambivalent: on the one hand they are happy to be here, on the other hand they feel guilty because they left their friends behind. We work with them so that they can let go of their feelings of guilt. They are smart and learn to deal with the situation. And they are grateful for the opportunities they get here in Bethlehem.” 

This also includes the opportunity for education. The children have not been able to go to school since the start of the fighting in Gaza. Now they will receive transitional lessons until the new school year begins and they can participate in the regular school day. 

Support Children and Families in Crisis 

During conflict, children without parental care, or those who are at risk of losing it, are at even greater risk. SOS Children’s Villages protects them, providing immediate emergency aid and long term mental health support, protecting unaccompanied children from exploitation and harm, and working with families to keep them together.            

Donate to our Emergencies Fund and help us provide safe spaces, education, and psychological support to even more children and families impacted by conflict.

*Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals 

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