Families: Can’t Live With Them Can’t Live Without Them

As Westerners, we’re used to the individualistic attitude that leaves us responsible for our achievements as well as our failures. However, here in Nablus we’ve had to adjust to a much more collective mindset. Here, people understand things in terms of their collective units, and at the base of everything is the family. Families here are usually extended rather than nuclear, and the size of a family can often determine power dynamics in an entire neighborhood. We can sometimes see this reflected in the way our kids interact with each other. With so much influence in the community, it’s no surprise that we’re taking time to focus on our kids’ interactions with their families. Our multi-generational approach already targets intervention at different levels of the family to ensure long-term success, but this week we took it a step further to address family dynamics with our kids. In cramped refugee camps, tensions can run high within and between families in our target areas. Our goals were to address conflict within the family and teach our kids strategies to deal with issues at home, with the hopes of encouraging a more respectful and supportive home life which would have a ripple effect on the entire community. The importance of family is at the core of values within Palestinian society, but such importance can be detrimental to the safety of many families when relationships turn abusive. Taking a variety of physical and psychological forms, abuse is often shrouded by social constraints surrounding privacy and intimacy within the family. This cycle of shame and silence reflects a societal concern and contributes toward a very real number of preventable incidents. According to a 2010 Unicef report, the number of anecdotal cases of domestic violence vastly overshadows the number of cases officially reported to the police in the West Bank. A safe and supportive community is necessary to empower individuals to be able to hold their family members accountable for abuse; an environment that TYO is currently at the forefront in providing for Nabulsi women and children.

Abuse exerts a form of domination that makes supportive, safe and healthy interactions seem unattainable. Living in an occupied territory means living under harsh socioeconomic conditions, which unfortunately present abuse as a way to commandeer some semblance of control. TYO’s efforts to guide empowerment and establish a dialogue regarding this deeply buried societal concern are essential toward domestic abuse’s resolution and prevention. According to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, two out of three women exposed to violence choose silence. Only those who speak up or end up killed are the stories that are heard. Therefore, instilling values of respect and emotional understanding serve as a foundation toward building a future of healthy families. Simply beginning a discussion about abuse has been a big step toward helping many families and children who are in unhealthy situations.

Furthermore, the family is a place where we should all feel like we can be our true selves. It is a judgeless and unconditional environment, where we feel loved and cherished for just being who we are. And yet, in the arena of the unconditional there is also a sense of intense vulnerability. This vulnerability is exemplified in the frequent abuse of the privilege of intimacy that comes from the family environment. This is in particularly the case for women and girls, who are often the ones to fall victim to familial violence in the Palestinian setting. According to recent research conducted by UNIFEM and the General Union of Women in the Middle East, approximately 80.4% of abuse towards girls comes from one of their family members (Assaf and Chaban 2013: 425), with fathers (42%), mothers (32%) and brothers (16%) highlighted as the main perpetrators of this abuse. These statistics allow a small glimpse into the living situation of many Nabulsi women and girls, as one in which many do not feel cherished and are often too afraid to be their true selves.

For us TYO interns, the position of women and girls within the family is of upmost importance when planning and conducting not only our lesson for The Women’s Group, but also our afternoon classes. For instance, even in simple class activities, such as football, it is important to remember how deeply ingrained attitudes within much of the local society here in Nablus view the capacity of girls and boys in these sorts of activities. These sorts of beliefs become increasingly transparent through the discussions undertaken with the children during classes in which it is both inspiring and disheartening to hear girls talk about the disadvantages they face at home. As an intern, the success of our psychosocial work in the classrooms balance on the extent to which we try to understand how many of these children - and even the volunteers - have been raised within a family that traditionally segregates the sexes in all walks of life.

In addition, according to a study published by the University of Michigan in 2011 sibling rivalry is one of the primary factors which can disrupt the stable workings of a household. (Boyse, 2011: n.p.).  When siblings fight it creates stress for both parents and other siblings which can impact family dynamic and create tension within the home. Furthermore, because in childhood, children often spend much more time with their siblings than they do with their parents, strained relationships with siblings can impede children’s ability to develop healthy relationships both inside and outside the home.

In relation to this, in larger family settings, often siblings fight as a means of defining who they are as a person within the context of the home (Boyse, 2011: n.p.). If the only time a child gets noticed is when he or she fights with other siblings, this type of negative behavior ends up perpetuating itself. Moreover, in the Palestinian context, where the median number of family members is six, often sibling rivalry stems from competition over which child will get the most attention from parents.

Through use of a psychosocial approach, TYO is working to equip children with the coping mechanisms necessary to cohabitate with siblings in a healthy way. By teaching simple methods from an early age such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten and walking away from negative situations, children are learning the skills necessary to become positive members of the household. Furthermore, though these skills are currently being applied to children’s relationships with their bothers and sisters, they will also be applicable later in life as the foundations for a non-violent life started in adolescence.

- Rosie, Rachel, Cynthia and Noah

Rosie, Rachel, Cynthia and Noah are Fall 2013 TYO Interns in Nablus