An oPt Humanitarian Fund success story
Sarah is a 58-year-old mother of five who lives with her family near a highly restricted part of Hebron city’s H2 area.
In H2, the Israeli authorities have retained security responsibilities, and its residents’ access to services is often more challenging than elsewhere in the city. Sarah is diabetic, and when she has to access clinics, she must typically cross Israeli military checkpoints. Many people in her area of the city have been exposed to intense activities by Israeli settlers and soldiers, including violent attacks.
On top of this, women in Hebron have assessed domestic violence to be one of the most prevalent forms of violence in their communities, as indicated by a recent poll. Yet, in many cases, women and girls have little room to express their feelings or complain over experiences of domestic oppression or abuse. Luckily, Sarah has not faced domestic violence directly, but she does feel that society constrains her life as a woman.
Through funding provided by the occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian fund (oPt HF), the Psycho-Social Counseling Center for Women team in H2, in cooperation with Sharek Center, organized activities for women like Sarah. The purpose was to support women who have been
exposed or are vulnerable to gender-based violence or repressive norms in that area, provide them with safe space, and encourage them to express feelings and support each other. The project is complementary to separate endeavours to prevent violence. The activities took into consideration both the situation in participants’ homes and the wider occupation-related context.
When Sarah joined the first group counselling session, encouraged by one of her relatives, she was afraid of speaking. “At the beginning, I was very hesitant and did not want to participate in the group counseling activity,” she recalls. “During the first session, I was quiet and confused. I barely interacted with anyone and I was out of focus, as if I was in another world.”
Sarah said she is constantly concerned about her children being potentially attacked by settlers or soldiers, and shared her related feelings of anxiety, and experiences of insomnia and nightmares. She is particularly anxious every time she has to cross through a checkpoint or when she is being searched, Sarah says.
However, by the end of the second session, Sarah was ready to ask for individual meetings with a counsellor. There, she spoke openly about her difficulties, including coping with her illness, witnessing violence and overcoming other challenges. She learned to breath more easily and use guided imagery to relax. “I felt my health had improved. I became happier and my fears and anxiety while crossing checkpoints had decreased,” she said.
Most recently, Sarah was very happy to share with the group members that her doctor “was shocked” to see her blood sugar levels improve, and asked about any changes she had done to her lifestyle because “according to the treatment plan, the medication needs more time to stabilize blood sugar levels.” Sarah explained to her doctor that “through the group sessions, we recover faster than with any medicine a doctor could possibly give us.”
During her subsequent group counseling activity, Sarah was more open to express herself in front of fellow women. She became stronger and better able to say no. Her self-confidence increased and she developed her ability to cope, trust others, and ask for support as need. She smiled more and looked forward to the next meeting. Her group members had become her friends.