Supporting Families in Palestine

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization’s Core Child Program team participated last week in a monthly Mental Health Psychosocial Support Network working group meeting. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) presented their programs in order to increase coordination between mental health partners and work together to implement future plans. One of their programs is the Family Protection Program. This was implemented three years ago in a small number of refugee camps in the West Bank as a pilot project. But after the success of the project the program was considered to be a sustainable and important one.The UN is working to adapt and implement the intervention in other camps. The idea behind the project is to empower the family and the community to reduce mental health illnesses by increasing knowledge of mental health in communities. Family protection intervention is based on establishing committees from the camp members at two levels. The first level is a small committee which includes a social worker, psychologist, and medical practitioners. The second level is another committee that includes a larger number of community members who are working on the ground with people in camps, to address the most important issues facing the camp. They create action plans including raising awareness, distributing flyers, working with schools and reporting to the small committee. These two committees showed successful results when they were implemented as a pilot. The question is why did this kind of intervention work?

1. Family is the basic foundation of relationships within the society.  In Palestine, one finds central values that are common throughout the Middle East related to the core social structure of the society—the family.  Among these values are mutual support and interdependence, family cohesion, family bonding, harmony within the family, collectivism and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the family. The social structure also places restricting expectations on the family unit, the individual within it as well as the extended family as a whole.

2. According to a report by Palestinian researcher Mohammad Haj-Yahya, who focuses on the psychosocial impact of trauma on children and women in the West Bank and Gaza, traditional heritage supports continuing the status quo. The culture gives men power and control, reflecting the patriarchal and hierarchical structure of the family and the society that creates inequality between men and women

In order to achieve acceptance in the family and the society women must obey their husbands, fathers and brothers.

3. There is often internal or external strife and conflict between groups.  In Palestine, the prolonged and ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis has created suffering on both sides.  The multiple traumas and bad economic situation Palestinians experience creates a huge pressure on the family structure which produces unhealthy dysfunctional interaction within one family and the unhealthy relations expand to the whole community system.

TYO believes that in order to have healthier kids in the community, we need to focus on strengthening the relationships between the mother and her children. UNRWA Family Protection Program targets multiple subsystems which also can improve the family’s function. The Palestinian community is in need of individual and family based interventions in order to reach their full potential and become happier, healthier and reduce mental health issues.