An Open Door in Gaza

September 21, 2012

By James S. Gordon MD

The first day’s meeting with our Gaza leadership team opens the door, actually frames the whole visit. There’s Jamil—our Program Director, and nineteen others—psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers. They have day jobs in Gaza’s ministries, at the UN, and in the red crescent, and a variety of local NGOs. Many have been with us since 2005 when they came to the first training. They lead our programs in the institutions in which they work, supervise the 420 clinicians and educators we have trained in Gaza and meet together every week to learn from one another and make our program as good and as easily available as it can be. Jamil and his team are responsible for bringing our work to, so far, 50,000 Palestinian children and adults.

We sit in a large circle and “check in” one by one. Here is Ahmed, a Psychologist and Supervisor at the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNWR), the stocky jovial guy who taught us all to do the debke—the traditional Palestinian line dance: “We all see our work changing the community. There are many therapists and many skills but mind-body medicine is everywhere. We use it in jails and with the organizations for young people. I have to say, I have succeeded where many others haven’t.” And Naima, an nurse who used to work for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and now leads efforts for women’s empowerment. She is a lovely kind bedouin woman fluent in English after a year studying in the US. When I first met her she was single, now she is pregnant with her second baby about to give birth. “But I had to come, Jim. Years ago, people made faces when I mentioned mind-body medicine. Now everyone knows about CMBM. Our groups are filled at the women’s center and people come up to ask me about our program in the bank and at the food store.” “Mind-body medicine is a friend.” Says Iman, a physical therapist. “And being here is like living with my second family. Our message is love.”

The next day, 250 of those who have completed our training respond to the message and enlarge the family. They come together on the terrace of the Almathaf Hotel next to a Mediterranean beach that would be beautiful if there were better ways to deal with Gaza’s ever-collecting refuse. They are laughing, shaking hands, hugging, touching cheeks two or three times, there are cigarettes in stressed out Gaza, and always coffee.

In the hotel ballroom, they speak of the work they are doing. “I have a group,” one begins “with children with cancer. In our first meeting, a boy drew himself as a dog in a cage. In the tenth group, his drawing showed himself as a doctor taking care of children.” They ask questions about children and adults whose drawings and images, like this boy’s, are saturated with destruction and death and report their amazement that even the most troubled and angry people keep coming to the groups.

Jamil and I speak to them. “Be an example to the children” he says, “and treat them with love and they will treat others with love.”