Three-years-old and caught in the violence of war

Three-year-old Salam* lost her parents in a bombardment on her house in Khan Yunis. She was pulled from under the rubble and taken to a hospital in Deir al Balah, where she was cared for by a doctor and his sister for three weeks.  

SOS Children’s Village Rafah staff alongside psychologist, Khaled*, arrived at a hospital in Deir al Balah to bring an unaccompanied three-year-old girl, Salam, back to the Village. But when they arrived, Salam was continuously crying and screaming and refused to leave. 

She had developed such a strong attachment to the doctor and his sister, who had both shown so much kindness, that she didn’t want to leave the hospital. 

Journey to a new home 

SOS Children’s Villages psychologist, Khaled, said “Salam is very smart and alert. She’s only three but she understands exactly what’s happening around her.  

“When I first met her, I was trying to calm her down and reassure her that she’s safe now, and she said, ‘say whatever you want to say, but do not say you’re going to take me to my parents. I saw them dying in front of my eyes.’ I burst out crying.” 

SOS Children’s Villages staff took Salam to the Village in Rafah, where they care for over 70 children, without parental care, in family-like environments. Khaled held the girl and tried to calm her down all the way to the Village. But Salam continued crying and screaming for the first two days.  

On the second day, Khaled was able to find her aunt and uncle and bring them to the Village to see her.  

After seeing her relatives, she felt safer and stopped crying. But she remained very nervous and refused to eat or talk. 

The power of play 

Over many days, and with a lot of persistence and attention, Khaled introduced a new toy to Salam, one that she could play with in the sand.  

“I looked in the whole market for this sand toy, I didn’t think I’d be able to find it. The toy helped her build shapes she likes and it made her feel comfortable”.   

Slowly, Salam was able to overcome her barriers and foster new friendships. 

The Village environment, coupled with structured play and thoughtful interventions, became crucial in her healing journey.  

Structured Play is one of the coping strategies Khaled tried to help the girl. He started purposefully asking other children to play with her, to break the barriers between her and other children.  

After weeks of consistent support, Salam’s progress was evident. 

She not only formed connections but also began memorising Quranic verses and songs, expressing a sense of accomplishment. 

She even now tells the psychologist “I want to play with Saja”, which is a great development. 

There’s still a long way to go for Salam, but staff at SOS Children’s Villages will be with her every step of the way. 

*Names changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

Sadly, Salam isn’t the only three-year-old girl taken in by SOS Children’s Villages Rafah and suffering with severe trauma, both physical and mental, as a result of the war in Gaza.  

Read a story from Fayez, a psychologist as the Village, who tells of a young girl found alone, injured and deeply traumatised at a checkpoint in Gaza here.

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