The consequence of war: An orphaned three-year-old rescued from the rubble in Gaza

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


Salma* lost her parents when a bomb dropped on their house in Khan Yunis. She was found alive, was dug out from under the rubble and taken to a hospital in Deir Al-Balah. Salma needed treatment and care, and a doctor at the hospital took her to his home and his sister took care of her for three weeks.  


When the SOS Children’s Villages psychologist and staff from the Ministry of Social Development arrived at the hospital, Salma was continuously crying and screaming. She refused to leave the hospital as she had developed a strong attachment to the doctor and his sister, who had shown her so much kindness.  


“The girl is very smart and alert. She is only three years old but she understands exactly what happens around her. When I first met her, she told me, ‘Say whatever you want to say but do not say you are going to take me to my parents. I saw them dying in front of my eyes.’”  


The psychologist recalls, “I could not believe what she said, and I burst out crying. I was only trying to calm her down and reassure her that she is safe now.”


Salma was brought to the SOS Village in Rafah; all the while, the psychologist held her, trying to keep her calm. The SOS family was informed of Salma’s arrival and welcomed her with toys and gifts. However, for the first two days, Salma was inconsolable; she kept crying and screaming.  


The psychologist connected with Salma’s uncle and aunt and brought them to the village. After seeing her relatives, Salma felt safer and stopped crying. However, she remained nervous and refused to eat or talk to anyone. 


Over many days, with much persistence and attention, the psychologist gave Salma a sand toy, which ignited a positive response. Slowly, she started to foster new friendships. 


“I looked up the whole market for this sand toy. I did not think I would be able to find it. This toy helped her build shapes that she likes and makes her feel comfortable.“


The village environment, structured play and thoughtful interventions became crucial in Salma’s healing journey. Structured play is one of the coping strategies that the psychologist used to help the girl. They started asking other children to play with her to help break barriers between her and the other children. 


After weeks of consistent support, Salma’s progress was evident. She not only formed connections but also began memorizing Quranic verses and songs, expressing a sense of accomplishment.  She tells the psychologist, “I want to play with Aisha,*” which is a great development. Despite her progress, there is still a long journey of healing, and everyone from SOS Children’s Villages will be there every step of the way. 


*Names changed to protect privacy. 

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