Therapy room Haven of Calm
By Laurina Driesse

The mixed Jewish and Arab city of Lod in central Israel is still reeling from the events that shook the city a year ago. In May of last year, as some celebrated the reunification of Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim, horrible street clashes broke out in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood of Lod, sparked by an onslaught of rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza.

Like in any war situation, it is often the innocent young children who find themselves caught in the middle of the conflict and suffer trauma, sometimes lasting a lifetime.

Fourteen public schools in Lod were caught up in the crisis last year and are still struggling to heal.

When Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah visited a grade school in the Ramat Eshkol area, she learned of the trauma that not only the children are experiencing, but the fear teachers are dealing with returning to school as well.

seating in the Haven of calm room

Together with local initiatives on the ground, the ICEJ is offering support for a special project called “Havens of Calm,” which is being implemented in as many schools as possible in Lod.

Through this program, a peaceful space is created where healing can take place within the school framework. A place where children can receive social mobility through therapy and where school counselors and psychologists can provide emotional diagnosis, treatment, and group work with the children, as well as extend advice to parents. Already, 13 Haven of Calm rooms have been established in schools, with children referred to the program including both Jewish and Arab boys and girls.

The violence that rocked the city last year compounded the already existing social problems, such as parental neglect, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, which many of the children suffer from.

One grade school counsellor, Sabrin, shared with Nicole the magnitude of the situation they are dealing with and how desperately the children need this service.

This school accommodates students from grades one to six. Many of the children come from a neighborhood where for decades it has been riddled with weapons, violence, drug abuse and family crime. “Last May, I was afraid to come to work. There was a lot of violence. Now we are seeing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and all of this is followed by Corona. The security situation is difficult in the whole country. We first need to feel secure, then we can give a response and help,” remarked Sabrin.

“Thank you for your gift,” added Sabrin. “I am crying out for more hours of treatment. It starts here, then goes to the community. We see children who need help, and if they do not get it, you will see the results in the community, like suicide, drugs, crime, etcetera. We must deal with the troubles at the root.”

“We are trying to prevent PTSD from developing and with your donation we built a first aid response,” explained Hadas, director of Psychological Care for the Lod school system. “This school did not have a Havens of Calm room, it was added since the conflict last May, although it was already in a lot of schools. In one instance, children saw their class being set on fire in front of them. We put in three Havens of Calm rooms there,” she continued.

Realizing the need to accomplish a long-term change for the youth, Hadas noted: “all aspects of their life must be involved; school, family, etcetera, so we need to get the parents involved. It is complicated, and we also work with the teachers and the school counsellors as well.”

Hadas tells of an encounter where the mother of a child nearing the end of treatment enquired about ongoing help through private treatment, as she saw how much it was helping her child. Sadly, many of the therapists left Lod during the crisis, but they have slowly managed to rebuild a team of young psychologists and therapists who can now begin to tackle the ocean of challenges.

Children at Lod school

Havens of Calm is having an impact on the immediate issues that the children are dealing with. Through the program, children acquire the tools and coping skills they need to deal with tremendously complex situations and can apply these coping mechanisms to their life as they grow into adulthood.

As Nicole continued her visit, she heard the positive stories of how this project is already impacting lives.

One child’s acute crisis was brought on when a family member was violently attacked. The child’s parents are well-educated and capable of caring for the child, yet this attack severely hindered their ability to function, and the entire family structure began to disintegrate. To bring the family back to a place of stability, each member went to a therapist for individual counselling.

During the conflict last year, another child began drawing the Palestinian flag and held a quasi-protest in the teachers’ room. When other children told him to stop, he tried to stab them with a pair of scissors. Realizing that a quick intervention was required, the therapist devised a plan to help the child with his identity issues.

Diana, who has worked as a psychologist and in various other positions in Lod over the past four years, recalls how last May was one of the most challenging times in her life. Although she strived to remain neutral and professional, with the conflict right at her doorstep, this was extremely difficult.

“The Arabs of Lod are one of the most difficult Arab populations in the country. This is almost the only opportunity for the children here to get help. They are so underprivileged. They need to get help at school to return them to a good development path because they likely will not receive it anywhere else,” noted Diana. “Lod needs this investment.”

Through your generous giving, hope can blossom, and wounds can begin to heal for the children of Lod, as they enter their School’s Havens of Calm room for much needed counselling and therapy. The location of the Havens of Calm room within the schools makes parents and children feel more secure and gives them a sense of belonging to the larger community. So far, 95 children and their families are participating in this program while others are still in the evaluation stage.

Please continue to support hope-giving projects such as these which help young people find a better future.