Pernille Ironside, Chief of UNICEF’s Gaza Field Office took to Reddit today to answer questions about the impact of the current conflict on the children of Gaza, and UNICEF’s humanitarian response.
Here is a snapshot of the most interesting questions from Reddit users – and Pernille’s answers. Read the full Reddit here.
Q1 from laurac82: What is UNICEF currently doing to try and protect children in Gaza?
A: Hi Laura82 – thanks for your important question. Children across Gaza are incredibly vulnerable right now in so many ways and require multiple forms of protection. UNICEF is actively advocating for the protection of civilians and civilian objects from military strikes so that no more children are killed and injured; we monitor and document this on a daily basis. We also have teams on the ground who are reaching out to children and their families who have already lost loved ones to provide them with some immediate coping skills to deal with their grief and loss; this is called ‘psychosocial first aid’.
Unfortunately Gaza is now littered with unexploded ordnance, so we are doing a lot of awareness raising via the radio and in public shelters/communities to protect children (and adults!) about spotting such dangerous explosive remnants of war and who to report to. We fear that many more children could lose their lives or be maimed from this after the war if we don’t step up awareness. These are just some of the activities that we have underway.
Q2 from daleygaga: …I’m curious, how does the whole UN system (as well as other humanitarian actors) work together (to assist) within the Gaza Strip? …Also, looking for positive light, can you share with us an inspiring story that happened at Gaza so that people maybe encouraged to advocate for the cause?
A: Hi daleygaga, thanks for your great questions! To tackle this very complex emergency, the UN has set up a humanitarian Emergency Operations Centre in Gaza, under the capable leadership of UN-OCHA. It is here that UN agencies and other key humanitarian actors combine forces to do our utmost in terms of the emergency response. We also have an established humanitarian cluster system in Gaza that was active prior to this latest conflict. UNICEF is leading coordination of the water/sanitation and child protection sectors, and co-leading coordination of the education sector with Save the Children.
I am inspired on a daily basis by my colleagues – Palestinian humanitarians. Despite having been through three major wars, having themselves been shelled and needing to find safety and shelter for their families and friends, they somehow, somewhere find the strength to get up in the morning, cross all manner of obstacles and danger to selflessly provide much needed humanitarian relief. They are true humanitarian heroes!
Q3 from vm2014: Are the children currently attending school? Are there enough schools?
A: Hi vm2014 – children are still on their summer break but normally school should resume on August 24th in Gaza. This will not be possible this year without a stable ceasefire in place. Also, there are still over 250,000 people who have sought safety and shelter in schools all across Gaza as their homes have been destroyed or they live in high risk areas; they still need to find alternative shelter. UNICEF is working hard on preparing for a massive ‘back to school’ campaign, enabling children to go back to learning as soon as possible with the support of their teachers and families.
Q4 from REB73: How do you keep it together when you spend your life surrounded by suffering and dying kids? I became a dad 6 months ago and just seeing a news story about some Palestinian family being caught in an air-strike makes me well-up.
A: Hi Reb73, congrats on becoming a dad! Emotions are essential for humanitarian workers – we cannot be effective if we are automatons desensitized from human suffering. We are human. I try to positively channel my emotions into even greater resolve, conviction, strength and deep empathy into everything we at UNICEF aim to achieve and everyone I meet in our work. I also have the unwavering support of friends and family to do what I am doing and to dig deeper when it gets tough.
Q5 from fallingalt: In the course of doing your work, what saddens you the most?
A: Thanks for your question fallingalt. It breaks my heart when I hear children give up hope. Last week I met 14-year-old Razan in Gaza. She shared with me that she would prefer to have died quickly from the bombs rather than further endure the suffering of a slow death under occupation with little hope for a “normal” future of opportunity and freedom. This is heartbreaking; and she is not alone in this sentiment.
Q6 from swilbanks: If a 7-year-old in Gaza has already experienced three wars in his/her lifetime, how can we help these children to grow up with the belief that peace and coexistence is in fact achievable?…
A: Hi swilbanks – you have raised a pivotal question. Promoting peacebuilding, social cohesion, tolerance and understanding amongst children are key aims of an important project that UNICEF had working with Palestinian adolescents even prior to this latest conflict. Further attention to, and investment in providing meaningful and supportive educational and extra-curricular opportunities for Palestinian children and adolescents is even more vital now to counter sentiments of despair, anger and hopelessness.