'Why are kids dying in Gaza?' UAE children haunted by nightmares as horrors of war unfold

For parents, it has been painful to see the plight of Palestinian children but it is equally disconcerting to witness how their own kids 'feel scared and bitter inside'

by

Nandini Sircar

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Palestinian children queue to receive a portion of food at a make-shift charity kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 8. — AFP
Palestinian children queue to receive a portion of food at a make-shift charity kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 8. — AFP

Published: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 3:32 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 4:05 PM

In the quiet corners of the night, where sweet dreams once held dominion for children, fears seemed to have taken a seat amidst the raging war in Gaza.

UAE kids Leanne, 10, and Lamia Malallah, 12 — like many others in their generation— know too much too soon. The vivid scenes of chaos and despair in war-torn Gaza have haunted their slumber.

“One week after the war began, my children started waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares… asking me what the reason for the war is, how can people hurt children, and what would happen to those whose parents have died?” said Leanne and Lamia's mother, UAE national Malak Alfarsi.

Modern warfare isn't confined to distant battlegrounds, nor does it involve only opposing nations. With technology capturing stories and visuals in real time, children — whether near or far — are being affected in more ways than one can imagine.

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“They started returning from school with headaches. Children watch and discuss a lot of things among themselves. Although I have taken away their devices from them, they still need them for schoolwork. We can’t completely cut them off from their gadgets," Malak told Khaleej Times.

For mothers like Malak, it is not only “painful” to see the plight of Palestinian kids on social media but equally disconcerting to see her own children “feeling scared and bitter inside".

“You don’t feel like rejoicing at a time like this... when especially, children are losing their lives. Our children have so many unanswered questions,” she said.

Kids no longer post happy content online

“My daughter has not posted anything happy on Instagram in a long time because of what is going on. We haven’t really gone out and enjoyed in a long time. It's gut-wrenching to see some of the videos, especially what’s happening to women and children — do children even deserve this kind of fate?” Malak added.

Karen Tila’s five-year-old son’s curiosity also led him to a screen, a window into a world that he was not ready to comprehend.

Arkin, who does online schooling, often tinkers with his devices. One day, his innocent eyes landed on the horrors of the ongoing war.

'Why are children dying?'

“Ever since my son watched the visuals from the war-torn area, he has been asking me questions about what is ‘death’ and why are children suffering and dying?” Karen said.

“It’s really daunting to explain to a child as young as him, as to what is a war and more importantly…children who are supposed to live long…why are they dying? As a mother, I can see that the innocence of his childhood clashing with the harsh reality of the world,” the Filipino expat added.

“I told him you should feel blessed that you live in a peaceful country."

Sharing is caring

While children may not fully comprehend the complexities of the conflict, even with their limited understanding and exposure to aid-related discussions in school, little ones in the UAE are showing empathy during such distressing times.

“About six months ago, my eight-year-old had asked about the Ukraine war. Now, she brought up the war in Gaza more recently, expressing concern about the children dying there,’’ said Dubai resident Chayanika Baruah.

“I was quiet initially,” she added, who later tried to explain the situation, highlighting the importance of peace.

But the conversation didn’t end there. Chayanika’s daughter, Raissa, then offered to buy packets of “her favourite food, Maggie noodles” to support aid organisations.

Card made by a student of Shining Star School
Card made by a student of Shining Star School

“I was quite moved to see that she was offering her favourite food to the distressed children. This gesture highlighted the positive influence that discussions about the war in school were having on the young ones, amidst so much negativity.”

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Relief campaigns in schools

Several students and parents have reached out to UAE schools to push for a relief drive and open up channels where the community can help Palestinians in Gaza.

To provide humanitarian relief, through the Red Crescent, schools are organising donation campaigns, collecting items like winter tents for families, tarpaulin, kitchen utensils and equipment, sleeping bags, blankets, heaters for tents, baby supplements, and food parcels, among others.

Card made by a student of Shining Star School
Card made by a student of Shining Star School

Pramod Mahajan, principal of Sharjah Indian School, said: “Our students council has collected Dh100,000 as part of a donation campaign this Diwali to be offered as a gift to the victims. Additionally, teachers have collected Dh200,000 as part of their donation campaign.”

Abhilasha Singh, principal of Shining Star International, said: “Conversations have been going on about this in our morning assemblies as well, to sensitise children. The school is also open to supporting students emotionally and mentally in case they need help as many may have been exposed to distressing war visuals. We are also collecting items to contribute to the Red Crescent humanitarian aid efforts.”

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