Organizing summer camps to offer children a reprieve from violence

The Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC) in Ramallah, in the West Bank, organizes a free summer camp to rehabilitate traumatized children. The camp offers recreational, artistic and rehabilitative activities intended to help children support one another and deal with their personal traumas and fears.

The Israeli military has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and ongoing violence in the region has psychologically affected the entire Palestinian population, creating a culture dominated by violence. Born into oppressive and stressful living conditions, most of the children in the West Bank have witnessed atrocities.

TRC established its summer camp to alleviate some of the hardships these children face and to provide a setting for rehabilitative care. TRC promotes the camps in nearby villages, in refugee camps and among its clients. Most of the children selected (about 60–70) suffer symptoms of anxiety, depression or loneliness because of their ex­posure to trauma; many have witnessed the death or torture of family members.

The summer camp meets daily for four to five hours over a period of three to four weeks. Transportation is pro­vided to and from the camp and most often the camp is located close to where the children live. The participating children are divided into groups based on the level or kind of trauma they have suffered. Each child has a mentor to assist, listen, counsel and integrate him or her into the group of other children. Each child also has access to a psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker. The first and last three days of the summer camp are usually dedicat­ed to projects such as drawing, artwork and sports. The rest of the days are focused on group work, such as group dynamics and counseling, play and art therapy. Medical and behavioral reports are maintained in order to evaluate the camp’s impact on each child.

Based on evaluation forms filled out by parents and counselors, many children leave the camp with fewer anxiety symptoms, fewer violent behaviors and more openness and are more integrated into their communities. During the drawing projects, children are asked to draw pictures representing their environments or hopes for the future. Most often, initial drawings portray dark images or colors. Final drawings, however, show a change in attitudes and hope about the future.


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What we can learn from this tactic: 

In the West Bank a group is addressing the problem of trauma among children under occupation by providing them an opportunity to connect with other children in a peaceful environment.

The camps give the children an opportunity to step out of the violence of their day-to-day lives and explore different ways of dealing with trauma without using violence themselves. The camps also offer a release for children, a place where they can come to express themselves through play and art, while at the same time re­ceiving rehabilitative services.