I am here in Ramallah working with PMRS. I've decided to work with their growing mental health program, to help with evaluation, and have begun by visiting the groups they have for women and children/adolescents. I'm here as a Masters in Public Health student from the University of Washington in Seattle.
So far, it's fascinating. The supervisor of the program has an incredible amount to manage, especially given all of the travel restrictions, road blocks, checkpoints, etc. that makes getting from one West Bank town to another an all day endeavor sometimes.
Last Monday, I rode with an ambulance and got to see first hand as the Israeli soldiers made the ambulance driver open the back and open everything for them to inspect, even with a child in the back that he was bringing to another town for specialized treatment.
On Monday, we went to see the women's group in Qalqiliya-which is a town that is completely surrounded by the wall. The work of the women's group was amazing-they meet in Qalqiliya, and then the women go themselves back to their villages, trained to run their own groups.
Tuesday, I heard that a PMRS ambulance driver had been beaten at the checkpoint by Israeli soldiers.
On Wednesday, I went to Biddo and some surrounding small villages. The doctor there was kind enough to take me to see the wall-a snake, he called it-and showed me how it cut off the once easy road from Ramallah to the towns, and of course, cut off Palestinians from each other and their land.
Yesterday a small group of us-all but myself who are here to study at Bir Zeit University-went to Qalqiliya to look more closely at the wall. A few kids followed us as we took pictures. They were ages 10-13. They told us how soldiers take pictures from the wall and that there are soldiers right behind it with guns-soldiers who will shoot you. Of course, most people reading this blog will not be surprised by hearing that; and intellectually I already knew that. But hearing it from this group of boys was much harder than I can explain. How to even begin to address the trauma?
In this way, the mental health endeavor of PMRS astounds me. I look forward to finding out more about how people deal with the psychological impacts of the occupation. It seems completely different from dealing with trauma in any other setting, because the acute as well as the more covert and sustained attacks-ranging from beating up ambulance drivers to the fact of the checkpoints themselves, not to mention the economic suffocation-are all ongoing. How do you address this? How do people build resiliency? These are questions I am excited to uncover, and I feel honored to be here.