By Raed Al Nims

I approached her with my camera. All I wanted was to take a picture, but she cried and ran away quickly, burying herself in her mother’s lap. She was terrified of my camera. Rimas Hillis (4) was displaced from her home in Al Shaja’iyeh and now lives with her family in Al Zaytoon School in Tal Al Hawa in Gaza City.

I turned to her father, Kan’an Hillis (27), a bit puzzled by the child’s screams and tears. “Rimas has been like this ever since our home was bombed and we were besieged in Al Shaja’iyeh for nine hours amidst gunshots and explosions,” he said. “She is terrified of all strangers and jumps when she hears a car engine or a door slammed shut. She cries every night. She misses the doll she used to sleep with for comfort. She was very attached to that doll.”

Kan’an, his wife and their four children lived in a small but cozy house filled with memories. But now, the children’s clothes, toys and photos are all buried under rubble. The memories, however, survive.

Khaza Hillis, the family’s eldest son is 8-years-old. He was shaking an empty plastic bottle as we talked. I asked him how he felt about life in this school. I could hear the anger in his voice: “This is a bad place. I want to go home to look for my bicycle, but my dad won’t let me. I am sure I will find it in front of the house, because that is where I left it before the bombing started and we had to run away.”

His father smiled – a smile filled with helplessness – and patted Khaza’ on the shoulder.

When I asked about their living conditions in this school-turned-shelter, Kan’an said: “When we arrived at the school, it was already bursting with people. I used some of the covers that were given to us to create an artificial wall between ourselves and other families. The situation here is tragic. Hundreds of people share a few toilets and bathrooms. There is nowhere for children to play, and no privacy whatsoever.”

Nissan, the family’s six-year-old daughter, sat barefoot at a table, drawing. Her father called her and asked her what she longs for. She looked down at the floor, pushing a small stone with her foot: “I want my doll. I want to go back home”, she replied.

Organizations working in the Gaza Strip have reported that around 350,000 children need specialized psychosocial support. As part of the Red Crescent’s efforts in this domain, the specialized psychosocial support team, which comprises 150 trained specialists, started implementing activities which target displaced families living in shelters, with a special focus on children. So far, the team has provided their support to around 25,123 beneficiaries.